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Nogales: Trade acceptance and moving forward

For Miguel “Miky” Suarez, sales manager for MAS Melons & Grapes, LLC, he accepts that any trade agreement is going to have pros and cons.

“Before NAFTA, product would enter the United States from Mexico and limited supply kept prices high. Since NAFTA, more produce is crossing the border, so prices are down, which benefits consumers.

“To stay profitable, growers have to control costs,” Suarez said. “Under NAFTA, it’s been a little harder to keep prices up, but it’s still a good business. Years ago, U.S. consumers had limited choices in the winter, but today items like tomatoes, grapes, cucumbers, and melons are available all year round.

“American companies have interests in Mexico,” Suarez said, “while Mexico is a huge market for American apples, tomatoes, grapes, melons, and stone fruit in the summer months.” In his opinion, “It all works out.”

While the details of the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade deal continue to be hammered out, companies in Nogales are optimistic.

“The United States and Mexico have already made a deal favorable to the United States,” said Luis Gonzalez, president of Gonzalez Quality Fruits and Vegetables.

Suarez said, “We need to stay open-minded about the changes ahead; there’s no sense in looking backward—we need to concentrate on what’s happening now.”

Alex Chamberlain, president of AC Tomato Sales, LLC, is looking forward to the new agreement being more supportive of prices on the U.S. side to prevent overproduction and dumping, which makes it difficult for Florida growers to compete.

“On top of that, Mexican growers have built state-of-the-art shade houses and packing facilities, which results in a better box of tomatoes. All the restrictions on Mexico have made them stronger and better growers.”

John Lichter, sales manager for Lisa, Inc., argues, “Dumping in landfills is not a daily or weekly occurrence. Much of the surplus is donated to shelters and foodbanks. Thirty years ago, the option of donating excess produce didn’t exist; today it’s a humanitarian part of doing business.”

For José Luis Obregon, president of IPR Fresh, concentrating on and promoting the healthy attributes of fruits and vegetables is the way to go.

“As Americans adopt a healthier diet, our industry continues to grow and Nogales will remain an ever more important part of the chain—that’s the future.”

Roberto Franzone, director of Arizona Sky Produce, Inc., takes a big picture outlook: “For such a small community, it touches on much of the United States. The major trends that show up here set the tone for all over the country. It’s defined by multiculturalism; Mexico and the United States meet with interdependence and mutual respect.”

This is an excerpt from the most recent Produce Blueprints quarterly journal. Click here to read the full supplement.