Growers and distributors of Mexican tomatoes are not pleased with plans for the U.S. to withdraw from the 2013 Suspension Agreement on Fresh Tomatoes from Mexico.
The move, scheduled for May 7, would allow the U.S. Department of Commerce to resume its long-dormant antidumping investigation.
The U.S. has been negotiating with Mexico on the agreement since January 2018, but the two sides were unable to come up with a new agreement that is acceptable to both sides.
The Florida Tomato Exchange in November requested that the Department of Commerce pull out of the agreement and investigate anti-dumping allegations.
Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, expressed disappointment over the decision in a news release in February.
“The Tomato Suspension Agreement has brought stability to the U.S. tomato market for over two decades, and it has been updated as the market has evolved,” he said.
“Despite Florida’s rhetoric, the record has shown that both Mexican growers and U.S. distributors have complied with the rules of the agreement,” Jungmeyer said.
He said he is hopeful that a new agreement can be reached before May 7, and Nogales tomato distributors seemed to agree.
Jaime Chamberlain, president of Chamberlain Distributing Inc. in Nogales, said he remembers what it was like to sell tomatoes prior to the agreement.
“It was rough to sell product without the suspension agreement in place,” he said.
There is a lot of merit to the agreement, he added.
“The U.S. has some of the lowest food prices in the world, and it’s because of our trade agreement, and it’s because of the countries that we import fruits and vegetables from,” he said.
“Mexico has been extremely innovative in technology, in seed breeding and in marketing and we’ve been very consistent with good quality,” he said.
“When you’ve got a competitor out there, and you’re looking for market share, you better step it up,” he said.
The move likely would add a 17.5% duty to tomatoes from Mexico, said Fried DeSchouwer, president of Greenhouse Produce Co. LLC, Vero Beach, Fla., which represents many greenhouse tomato growers in Mexico.
“That is a game changer,” he said.
“A suspension agreement with minimum pricing would automatically reduce the amount of volume that comes into the U.S.,” he said.
Manny Gerardo, salesman for Bernardi & Associates Inc. in Nogales, believes duties could be as high as 25%.
And he said a duty on tomatoes could be only the beginning.
“If they can do it with tomatoes, they can do it with vegetables,” he said. “Hopefully, that’s not the case, but I have a feeling that (tomatoes) might be just the start of it.”
The duties would be collected while the investigation is going on and held until it is completed, he said.
“It could take years,” Gerardo said.
Chamberlain said it’s important for U.S. consumers to understand that fewer options for their tomatoes will mean they will be more expensive.
“I truly hope that we find a solution, and that Mexico growers can negotiate with the Department of Commerce and with the Florida petitioners to find an agreement within 90 days,” he said.
“I think it’s very important for the industry,” he said, as well as consumers and customers.