(UPDATED COVERAGE, March 15) If a seminar by the U.S. Commerce Department on new rules overseeing the imports of Mexican tomatoes is an indication, importers are concerned about loopholes and exceptions to the new price structure.
About 230 people participated in the March 14 Web seminar, which was designed to educate the industry on the suspension agreement, which became effective March 4.
The U,S, Department of Agriculture’s Brian Wright and the Commerce Department’s Judy Rudman gave presentations. Rudman referred many of the questioners to the text of the agreement and other documents at the Commerce Department website. The presentations and an audio recording of the web seminar will be sent to participants and will eventually will be posted online.
After 30 minutes of presentations, Rudman took nearly an hour of questions from the Web audience. Many addressed how inspections and quality issues would affect compliance with the agreement. Other questions related to processing exceptions, sales to Canada, differences in summer and winter prices, the coverage of the agreement in Mexico and the correlation between “controlled environment” and greenhouse tomatoes.
One question was about what the Commerce Department would do if tomatoes from Mexican growers who did not sign the agreement come into the U.S. Rudman said the agreement has to cover 85% of all U.S. imports of Mexican tomatoes. She said that Commerce officials monitor imports to make sure that the agreement covers at least 85% of the volume. However, U.S. law allows tomatoes from growers who haven’t signed the agreement. Those growers would not have to comply with minimum price requirements, she said, as long as those tomatoes don’t account for more than 15% of total Mexican tomato imports.
“There are references in the new agreement to actions by the Mexican government that will significantly increase the signatory coverage and ensure greater coverage of the agreement for Mexican imports,” she said.
Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, later clarified information about the 15%-85% rule.
" ... (The) comment about 85% coverage was related to existing U.S. trade standards regarding suspension agreements," Jungmeyer said. "The 100% coverage of Mexican tomato exports is enabled by the Mexican federal government. U.S. selling agents and their growers in Mexico need to make sure they are aware of these new provisions.