Up to 33,000 American jobs are threatened by a Department of Commerce decision that would have the double impact of increasing tomato prices for American consumers, according to a press release from the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.
Tomato supplies stand to drop, they say, with corresponding price increases for American consumers, which the Association blames on Commerce’s notice of intent to withdraw from the Tomato Suspension Agreement.
Even in the conservative case of a 5 percent reduction in supplies of Mexican tomatoes, consumers would end up paying up to 25 cents more per pound at supermarkets, or up to $790 million more per year for tomatoes, according to a recent University of Arizona report.
In recent decades, America’s demand for vine-ripened tomatoes, tomatoes-on-the-vine, Romas, cherry and grape tomatoes, organics and more has been increasingly filled by farms in Mexico, which has a climate that is particularly suited to tomatoes, the Association said. It added that demand for vine-ripened Mexican tomatoes has built up a supply chain that supports over 33,000 U.S. jobs and nearly $3 billion in U.S. GDP.
Yet, in order to corner the market over their other competitors, a small group of wealthy tomato farmers from the politically connected Florida Tomato Exchange are pushing unreasonable changes to interstate commerce norms, according to the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, in a recent letter to Commerce Sec. Ross.
“The truth appears to be that leaders of the Florida Tomato Exchange (FTE) are on a campaign to portray themselves as the victims to trade while leveraging U.S. trade law to corner the market and drive out competition,” said FPAA President Lance Jungmeyer.
"At the same time that Florida Tomato Exchange members claim harm from Mexican tomato imports, these very companies have been driving investments and partnerships in Mexico. It is beyond ironic that the growers which grow the largest percentage of Florida tomatoes also own and finance some of the largest growing operations in Mexico,” Jungmeyer said.
In its letter to the Department of Commerce, the FPAA encourages continuation of the Tomato Suspension Agreement, which prevents expensive duties on Mexican tomatoes and ensures continued supplies of the tomatoes that consumer prefer.
AMHPAC: 'Misleading statements'
Oscar Woltman, president of the Asociación Mexicana de Horticultura Protegida, A.C., stated in a letter to The Packer that comments made by FTE Executive Vice President Michael Schadler in The Packer and elsewhere inaccurately portrayed the willingness of Mexico's tomato growers to take part in constructive dialogue with the U.S. Department of Commerce and other appropriate parties on extending the Tomato Suspension Agreement, which would be in the best interests of American consumers. Shearman and Sterling represents the Mexican tomato growers.
"Contrary to Mr. Schadler's assertions, in the past year the Mexican growers have had a constructive dialogue with the U.S. Commerce Department to resolve open issues impacting the future of the Suspension Agreement," Woltman wrote. "We are also aware that the present agreement can have improvements and therefore have made several positive proposals in that direction. We have submitted at least five different proposals and several clarifications to the Department. We have also submitted thousands of pages of data and other information in support of our proposals that are all available for FTE's review."