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U.S. Department of Commerce to review Mexican tomato agreement

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Commerce's International Trade Administration said Aug. 21 that it is taking the next step in reviewing a request to terminate the tomato suspension agreement with Mexico.

The agreement sets a minimum price that Mexican producers-exporters can sell their fresh and chilled tomatoes to eliminate damaging effects of exports on U.S.-grown tomatoes.

The Florida Tomato Exchange and other U.S. petitioners filed documents June 22 with the U.S. Department of Commerce asking to terminate the 16-year-old tomato suspension agreement with Mexico, charging Mexican tomato producers with predatory actions.

In an Aug. 21 Federal Register notice, ITA said it has received letters of support to review the trade agreement from some state agriculture departments and other tomato growers in California, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida and Arizona.

But Mexican tomato growers-exporters oppose terminating the antidumping proceeding and suspension agreement, and the U.S. government has received letters in opposition to the change from the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, U.S. importers, several members of Congress and several Mexican government officials, ITA said.

U.S. growers asked the government to immediately terminate the suspended investigation, but the federal government is using an "initiation of changed circumstances review" as the mechanism to reconsider it, said the Federal Register notice.

Under U.S. trade law, the Department of Commerce may terminate a suspension agreement based on changed circumstances if certain conditions are met. ITA is accepting comments during the review process.

The news prompted an immediate reply from FPAA, which urged the Obama administration to oppose "special interest" efforts to abolish the U.S. agreement with Mexico that has governed the price of imported Mexican tomatoes since 1996. The group warned of retaliation from Mexico against U.S. exports if the agreement were abandoned.

"Special interest groups are using election-year politics to try to start a trade war that will disrupt a 16-year track record of success for bringing fair prices to consumers and healthy variety to family dinner tables," Lance Jungmeyer, FPAA president, said in an Aug. 21 press statement. "In this economy, the last thing we need is a trade war with our second-largest trading partner that hits American families in the pocketbook."

FPAA said that the United States is Mexico's largest importer of tomatoes, with imports totaling $1.3 billion last year.