A panel at the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas conference in Tubac Ariz., on Nov. 7 discussed everything from trade issues to sustainable packaging and retail trends. Panelists are Tom Stenzel (from left), president and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association; Ron Lemaire, president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association; Britton Clarke, president of BC Consulting; and Rick Stein, vice president of fresh foods at the Food Marketing Institute. ( Chris Koger )

TUBAC, ARIZ. — Whether it was tariffs, the potential for seasonality to be included in trade deals, or the possibility of increased duties on imported Mexican tomatoes, there was a common enemy of border trade that figured into discussions at the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas Convention: uncertainty.

Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales, Ariz.-based association, briefly discussed tariffs proposed by President Donald Trump in May. Although short-lived, it sowed uncertainty for companies importing Mexican produce, said Jungmeyer, calling the suddenness of the proposal a “doozy.”

“Imagine trying to do business, and plan your business, to work with your customers, growers, seed companies, everything, and this kind of deal comes out,” Jungmeyer said Nov. 7, the first day of the two-day event. “... Just to know this kind of thing could happen again is very worrisome.”

Britton Clarke, whose firm, BC Consulting, Washington, D.C., has promoted the FPAA’s interests in numerous trade issues, has met with many legislators in the past year, along with Jungmeyer and FPAA members.

“We can’t have uncertainty in our business,” she said Nov. 7. “We’ve got to be able to forge ahead and not worry about what morning our president may wake up and throw a tariff up or have some of his unique ideas.”

Clarke updated FPAA members on the Department of Commerce’s investigation into tomato dumping, which had been put on hold with a new tomato suspension agreement only to be restarted by a formal complaint from a U.S. grower. 

The International Trade Commission is expected to release a decision in the matter by the end of this month. In the meantime, the suspension agreement remains in effect.

Mandatory border inspections that are part of the suspension agreement are also a concern because the industry already has “wait times that are extreme at our border. We can’t afford to have any further (backlogs),” she said.

Seasonality, an issue proposed by some U.S. growers as a component of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, is a dead issue, Clarke said. Although it was part of trade agreement talks early on, Clarke said “extreme and intense” lobbying killed the issue, which would have allowed U.S. growers whose crops competed with Mexican imports to claim damages.

Although growers from numerous states requested seasonality to be in the USMCA, Florida growers were at the forefront of the issue.

“We will continue to fight with you to ensure that a small group of Florida farmers is not going to take over a national issue,” Clarke said.

Clarke said she’s confident there are enough pro-USMCA votes to pass the legislation, even though on the day of her presentation 12 union groups sent a letter to House leaders asking for it to be postponed while they follow up on labor concerns.

Despite the ongoing trade issues, the FPAA did see some bright points in the last year, according to Jungmeyer:

  • Plans and funding for a cold storage facility at the Mariposa Port of Entry are progressing, and the facility should be complete in 2020;
  • Plans for an upgrade of State Route 189, traveled heavily by trucks from the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales, are continuing; and
  • The House passed the Protecting America’s Food & Agriculture Act of 2019, which authorizes the hiring of more border inspectors.

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