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Rio Grande Valley pushes through regulatory red tape

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Other factors notwithstanding, the U.S. government proved to be a particularly sharp thorn in the side of Mexican growers and U.S. importers in 2019, especially in the Rio Grande Valley.

Tony Incaviglia, vice president of sales and marketing, GR Fresh, BB #:152629 McAllen, TX, points to the on-again, off-again Tomato Suspension Agreement, which imposed a 17.5 percent tariff on most tomatoes imported from Mexico.

This was in effect until October, when a new suspension agreement traded the tariffs for heightened USDA inspections at the border—again for most tomato varieties imported from Mexico.

GR Fresh’s biggest-selling item is Roma tomatoes, so Incaviglia worries that the results could be complicated for growers, importers, retailers, and, in the end, U.S. consumers.

“I don’t know how the whole inspection piece is going to work,” he says. “When you have to inspect hundreds and hundreds of loads a day that cross into this country, how will you keep the product fresh? Retailers want a certain color and quality, and they must get product when they need it. What if there’s a backlog at the border?”

Still, Incaviglia admits that at the end of the day, companies will have to follow the new rules if they want to continue importing product.

“We can complain and kick and scream and yell, but that won’t do any good,” he says. “We have to deal with it and figure it out.”

Art Salinas, director of operations at Pharr, TX-based Bonanza 2001, BB #:289197 says the antidumping situation has been a big challenge for at his company, but it will be a positive step forward for top quality growers and importers. In his opinion, it was, in the end, worth it.

“We’ve had to jump through a lot of hoops, and that’s been good for us,” he says. “Hence, we have a really good product. The new agreement is going to police people from sending second-rate product and selling it too cheaply. It will get the cheap tomatoes out of the market.”

This is multi-part feature adapted from the Rio Grande Valley Supplement in the January/February 2020 issue of Produce Blueprints.