( File image )

(UPDATED, Oct. 15)With the ink on the new tomato suspension agreement still wet, the Florida Tomato Exchange has filed a request for continuation of the antidumping investigation of fresh tomatoes from Mexico, which the agreement halted.

The group, however, says it’s not seeking to scuttle the agreement, but it wants to make sure Mexican tomato growers abide by the new agreement.

Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, said the group was analyzing the latest development from the Florida Tomato Exchange. "We have been focusing on getting the industry ready for the implementation of the agreement," Jungmeyer said in an email Oct. 14.

The antidumping investigation was suspended Sept. 19, when a new suspension agreement between the Department of Commerce and Mexican growers and exporters went into effect. U.S. trade law allows domestic producers to request continuation of the investigation, according to a statement from the Florida Tomato Exchange.

The statement explains the reasoning behind its request:

“The FTE is taking this action reluctantly. The Department of Commerce did an excellent job under difficult circumstances negotiating the new suspension agreement, which the FTE continues to support. Unfortunately, the Mexican tomato industry does not agree and has signaled its intention to challenge the agreement legally and politically, even though they signed the agreement just last month. The resumption of the investigation will not necessarily terminate the suspension agreement. In fact, the FTE’s objective in taking this action is to protect the integrity of the new agreement.”

The statement from the Florida Tomato Exchange cited “legal and political posturing by the Mexican tomato industry,”

According to the Florida group, CAADES, the Confederation of Agricultural Associations of the State of Sinaloa, and other Mexican agricultural groups sent a letter to the Commerce Department on Oct. 3 that “signaled a strong likelihood” they’d file a court challenge of the new agreement.

“There have also been multiple public reports that the Mexican tomato industry will do everything possible to renegotiate the agreement and are counting on strong action by the Mexican government to insist on changes,” according to the Florida Tomato Exchange statement.

Red Sun Farms, a Kingsville, Ontario, greenhouse grower with production in Mexico, and CAADES have pending lawsuits against the U.S. at the Court of International Trade, according to the Florida Tomato Exchange, and the Red Sun case, on appeal, asserts the former suspension agreement should be reinstated.

“These actions clearly indicate that the Mexican industry plans to force a renegotiation of the agreement by withdrawing at some point in the near future,” according to the Florida group’s statement. “This is a tactic the Mexican tomato industry used three times in the past to avoid sunset reviews and to negotiate new agreements that were more favorable to them. Those resulting agreements failed to protect the U.S. tomato industry from the injury caused by dumped Mexican tomatoes.”

Commerce and the International Trade Commission will determine whether or not Mexican tomatoes were dumped, and if that caused injury to the U.S. tomato industry, according to the Florida Tomato Exchange statement. If both determinations are affirmative, the suspension agreement will remain in place, and duties will not be imposed so long as the agreement is in effect, according to the statement. On the other hand, if there is a negative finding, the proceeding will end, the suspension agreement will be terminated, and there will be free trade. 

“It is important to reiterate that the new suspension agreement will continue even if Commerce and the ITC make affirmative findings,” according to the tomato exchange. “An affirmative finding should, however, discourage the Mexican tomato industry from using legal and political maneuvers to try and weaken the agreement. Any future withdrawal from the agreement by either the Mexican growers or by Commerce would automatically trigger a 90-day window to renegotiate before antidumping duties are imposed.

“This potential for a more immediate imposition of antidumping duties — without having to resume the investigation — should create a strong incentive for the Mexican tomato industry to abide by the new agreement, which they signed, and to stop spending time and money attacking the agreement politically and in the courts.”

Related articles:

New tomato suspension agreement signed

Poll: tomato suspension agreement

UPDATED: Florida pushes for USDA action on virus, FPAA responds