Last week it was announced the US was preparing orders to block imports of tomato products and cotton from China’s western region of Xinjiang. The reason relate to alleged forced-labor abuses in that region. Now, just a few days later, the Trump administration has pulled back from its plan.
FreshPlaza asked several US tomato growers-shippers to comment on the intended ban, but most of them didn’t seem to be very concerned. “I don’t really hear of any tomatoes coming in from China. The country has never been a tomato threat to us,” Jeff Madu with Windset Farms said. This was echoed by Roger Riehm of Blue Creek Produce who said, “I don’t think there is a lot of Chinese tomatoes really coming into the US that impacts us to worry about.”
Effect of ban would be limited
How much of a threat is China for the US tomato market? China is the leading tomato growing nation in the world. In 2017, the country produced close to 60 million tons of tomatoes and the majority was grown in the province of Xinjiang. However, the main buyers of Chinese tomato products are West Africa, the Far East, the Middle East, and Europe. Only a very limited amount of tomato paste seems to make its way over from China to the US. In fact, over the past 10 years, China’s annual exports of tomato paste to the US have averaged no more than 1,600 tonnes, according to an article on TomatoNews. This is less than 0.2 percent of Chinese foreign tomato sales, the article mentioned. It continued by saying that the effect of a ban on this sector would necessarily remain limited in economic terms to the Chinese industry. Top suppliers of tomatoes to the US are Mexico, Canada, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic.
Although China may not be a large supplier of tomato products to the US and a ban may be off the table, labor issues continue to be of concern. “As a North America grower committed to the highest standards of sustainability and protection of human rights, we support the administration’s actions,” said Jon Esformes, CEO of Sunripe Certified Brands. “We must protect agricultural workers. It is a fundamental human rights issue of the utmost importance and the utmost urgency.”