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Florida tomato growers fear trade deal will move production to Mexico

Florida's tomato industry has been under assault by cheap, government-subsidized tomatoes from Mexico since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. But the Trump administration's renegotiated trade treaty offers no relief, growers say.

The new trade deal, dubbed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, makes no changes to how fruits and vegetables are imported from Mexico, where labor is far cheaper than in the United States and the industry is heavily subsidized by the government in the form of vast amounts of capital and growing technology, such as state-of-the-art greenhouses and irrigation systems.

"The agreement is basically silent when it comes to doing anything to provide relief to growers who are impacted by unfair trade products coming in from Mexico," Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, told UPI.

According to research by Zhengfei Guan and others at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the Mexican government has invested billions of dollars in the country's agricultural sector since 2007 as part of a "National Development Plan."

These generous subsidies can include footing the bill for up to 50 percent of the cost for harvesting equipment and up to $200,000 on each greenhouse, micro-tunnel and shade house a producer wants to build.

Mexico's National Development Plan, combined with cheap labor and unfettered access to the U.S. market via NAFTA, has worked well.

In 2000, the total amount of Mexican tomatoes in the U.S. market was 20 percent less than Florida tomatoes, according to U.S. Department of Commerce and USDA data compiled by the UF researchers.

By 2016, Mexican tomatoes in the U.S. market was five times higher than Florida's (3.6 billion pounds vs. 700 million pounds).

Guan said if that trend continues, "The Florida tomato industry will be wiped out."

Read more at UPI (Ray Downs)

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