A request by the Maitland-based Florida Tomato Exchange for the federal government to end its tomato suspension agreement with Mexico has drawn the ire of many Mexican greenhouse grower-shippers and sparked the interest of some California tomato growers.
The Florida group cited unfair trade practices in June as it asked the U.S. to end the agreement reached in 1996, when Florida growers accused their Mexican counterparts of “dumping” tomatoes in the U.S. below their cost of production.
In exchange for suspending an investigation into the charges, Mexican growers agreed to abide by a floor price for tomatoes exported to the U.S. The agreement was revised in 2002 and 2008.
The current floor price is 17.2 cents per pound from July 1 to Oct. 22 and 21.69 cents per pound from Oct. 23 to June 30.
Not playing fair
Reggie Brown, vice president of the exchange, said Mexican growers have not been playing fair, and he said the organization has filed documents with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission requesting withdrawal from the anti-dumping duty petition, which would end the suspension agreement.
Brown said the reference prices cited in the agreements did not reflect the true production costs in Mexico.
“There are concerns that the market is being unfairly traded and dumping has been taking place, even under the agreement,” he said. “The domestic industry is concerned about that issue.”
There are trade laws in the U.S. that protect domestic industries from unfair trade practices, including dumping, he said. And there are procedures for industries to use those laws.
“Those are being very carefully examined,” he said.
Support for the action also comes from West Coast growers.
“California Tomato Farmers supports the withdrawal of the suspension agreement,” said Chris Zanobini, president of the Sacramento-based grower cooperative. “Our members also have weighed in on the subject.”
Brian Bernauer, director of sales and marketing for Fresh Pac International, Oceanside, Calif., which sources tomatoes from Baja California, said his feelings about the agreement remain unchanged.
“I hold the same opinion I had when they decided they needed the suspension agreement,” he said. “We’ve been a (signatory) since the first time it became legislation.”
Bernauer said he does not understand the reasoning of the Florida organization.