A new Tomato Suspension Agreement will ensure continued market access for Mexican tomatoes but it comes at a cost to importers, who will face unjustified costs and disruption to business due to the controversial Border Inspection Mechanism, which acts as a technical barrier to trade.
“It is outrageous that Commerce used false justifications to introduce what essentially acts as a quota or volume control method,” said Lance Jungmeyer, President of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA), adding, “It is completely unnecessary to require USDA to conduct quality inspections on an item that has already demonstrated a historical pass rate of 99.76%.”
The Mexican grower association CAADES seemed more pleased with the results. President Rosario Beltran stated: "These provisions help relieve our concerns that the United States was setting up a de facto quota or volume restriction. We hope these provisions will give comfort to the many interests in both countries concerned about bottlenecks at the border and supply chain delays."
Antonio Gandara, President of the Sonora growers association said: “We take the Department of Commerce at its word that the agreement is not designed to impede trade and we thank the Department's team for working with us to make important changes to the agreement in the last 30 days.”
It is estimated that constructing new warehouse space for inspections will cost importers more than $200 million upfront, plus another $50 million a year in fees and other costs. While the new agreement states that USDA will conduct and complete the inspection “normally within 24 hours,” the new agreement falls short of providing a waiver in case the inspection cannot be done.
Vine-ripened tomatoes are sensitive perishable items that continue to ripen after harvest, and typically must be delivered to customers within seven days after harvest. Adding a day or two for inspection at the border reduces shelf life.
“USDA has assured us the inspections can be done within 24 hours. If that’s really the case, then there should be no problem including language for a waiver in the instance the deadline can’t be met,” Jungmeyer said.
FPAA is pleased that the Mexican growers were able to secure some changes in the agreement that make the agreement more palatable, such as clarifying certain technical definitions. "The agreement was hard fought, but we were able to secure a number of important provisions that will make this deal work for our distributors and customers," said Mario Robles, Director of the Sinaloa growers association.
“Importers of other items that legitimately require inspection, such as avocados, citrus and table grapes, now could face economic damage due to slowdowns in getting inspections, considering the massive amount of new inspections that must occur. Food is a just-in-time business,” Jungmeyer said. “All around, this is a total step backward.”
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