Tomato fight might squeeze jobs, prices
MEXICO CITY — Mexico and the United States are gearing for a costly showdown over fresh tomatoes — a $3.5 billion business for the two countries — in a move that could boost the fortunes of some American tomato farmers but raise prices for American consumers.
Growers in Florida have demanded cuts in imports from Mexico, and Washington appears inclined to support the Floridians and the few farmers from other states who have joined the complaint.
That would require ending a 16-year-old trade agreement and endanger tens of thousands of jobs on both sides of the border, especially in border states, advocates for the Mexican tomatoes say.
It would probably increase the cost to U.S. consumers of fresh tomatoes, though it's unclear by how much. Mexico provides the United States with about half the fresh tomatoes it consumes, and many of the rest are grown in Florida, the United States' No. 1 producer of fresh tomatoes, followed closely by California.
In the past decade, Mexican growers have ramped up fresh tomato production. In 2000, fresh tomato exports totaled $412 million; by 2011, that figure had jumped to $1.81 billion.
Domestic importers of the Mexican varieties say they are tastier, cheaper and more plentiful year-round. The Florida growers contend Mexico low-balls its prices and makes fair competition impossible, and they asked the U.S. Commerce Department to intervene.
Late last week, the department filed notice of intent to grant the Florida growers' petition, a move that will allow them to formally accuse Mexican producers of illegal dumping. The decision, though preliminary, infuriated Mexico and a host of American companies supporting the Mexican tomato, including major grocery and restaurant chains and California importers.
“We are very disappointed,” said Francisco de Rosenzweig, Mexico's top foreign trade official. He said Mexican producers were especially stunned because the Commerce decision came one day before an initial meeting the two sides were to have to discuss renegotiating the trade agreement.
There are fears of a wider trade war if Mexico retaliates by trying to restrict the tons of U.S. meat, poultry, grains or other agricultural products that Mexico buys. Mexico is the United States' largest destination for exports overall, after Canada.
De Rosenzweig did not rule out reprisals. “This is a time we need more commerce, not less, since less hurts jobs and economic recovery,” he said.
Many in the pro-Mexican tomato camp suspect presidential election politics have had a role in the dispute, with the Floridians using their state's status as a repository of swing votes to put pressure on the Obama administration.
The Florida lobbyists have been pressing for an early decision from Commerce that would come before the U.S. election next month; normally, the review procedure in this type of action takes nine months. But they say the reason for the haste is that growers need to make decisions now for the next planting season.
Mexico is blessed with lower labor costs, good weather and rich soil, and tomatoes are its largest legal agricultural export. The growth in sales of fresh Mexican tomatoes to the U.S. has contributed to a thriving industry that employs 350,000 people in Mexico. At current production rates, Mexican earnings were on course to top $2 billion this year.
Some parts of Mexico, like the fertile, greenhouse-dotted Sinaloa region on the west coast, are so dedicated to the crop that the tomato is the symbol on the state license plate.
Mexican production got a huge push in the years after World War II, when American businessmen were looking for ways to provide fresh vegetables to U.S. consumers.
Total U.S. production of fresh market tomatoes was valued at $1.3 billion in 2009, the most recent data available.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Calgon Carbon poised for explosive growth
- Chevron puts $20M into educating, training Appalachian workers
- Amid struggles, top fiscal executive to leave EDMC
- Rural communities can’t shake effects of subprime crisis
- CMU spinoff’s CEO gets council honors
- Russian steel to lose duty shelter
- Market sell-off offers opening
- High pollution levels found near Ohio gas wells
- Natrona Bottling Co. keeps soda pop operation focused on craft, taste
- Fannie Mae might take 3% down
- Stocks rally; S&P 500 has best day of 2014