The U.S. Department of Commerce is in the process of determining whether to continue the current Tomato Suspension Agreement with Mexico, in effect since 2019, which regulates Mexican tomato exports to the United States.
The dispute pits the Florida Tomato Exchange (FTE), BB #:162441 which represents Florida and other American growers, against the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA), BB #:144354 which represents importers of Latin American produce to the U.S.
Charges and countercharges have been flung in both directions. FPAA: Pending Commerce Department decision on tomato imports could kill U.S. jobs, hike prices – Produce Blue Book; NatureSweet supports preserving 2019 Tomato Suspension Agreement – Produce Blue Book
The issue is whether Mexico is conducting unfair trade, including dumping.
Some have also sneered at Florida’s allegedly “green, gas-ripened” tomatoes.
To understand this issue better, I asked FTE executive vice president Michael Schadler for his views.
Below is his reply.
“The FPAA has put out a lot of misleading information that is meant to distract from the core legal issues in this matter.
“The Florida Tomato Exchange (FTE) is leading this effort on behalf of U.S. tomato growers, not just Florida growers. There isn’t a national tomato organization, so we have taken the lead on this issue for the domestic industry. Many of our member companies grow tomatoes in other states besides just Florida in order to provide year-round supply to customers. You can see where our member companies operate here.
“In addition to the national reach of our member companies, the vast majority of commercial tomato growers around the country (who are not affiliated with FTE) are also supporting termination of the suspension agreement. You can read about that in the bottom half of this press release.
Note the support for termination from tomato growers in 13 different states, as well as the American Farm Bureau and many state Farm Bureaus from across the country.
“There’s a reason why the congressional letter supporting termination of the agreement was led by a Senator from Florida (Sen. Rubio) and a Congressman from California (Rep. Costa). That’s because this is a national issue that stretches from Florida to California and everywhere in between. The FPAA is trying as hard as they can (with some success in the media) to paint termination of the suspension agreement as only being supported by a small group of Florida growers, which is completely untrue. In fact, the only tomato growers in the U.S. who have voiced opposition to terminating the agreement are companies that have more production interests in Mexico than they have in the U.S.
“All of the FPAA arguments are meant to distract from the fact that the Mexican tomato industry has been found guilty of dumping tomatoes in the U.S. market in violation of U.S. trade laws. Those representing Mexican interests continue to talk as if the suspension agreement is an entitlement for the Mexican industry, but that’s just not how the law works.
“The sole reason for a suspension agreement or antidumping duties is to defend a domestic industry against unfair trade practices. If the suspension agreement does not completely eliminate injury or if the agreement isn’t more beneficial to domestic producers than the action it’s suspending, the law says the suspension should be lifted and the underlying action imposed (in this case that would be antidumping duties).
“We strongly believe that antidumping duties would create discipline in the market to prevent unfair dumping of Mexican tomatoes while also giving the Mexican industry a chance to earn their way back to free trade. If antidumping duties are imposed, the Commerce Department will do a review each year to determine if dumping has continued.
“If Mexican tomatoes aren’t dumped, the duties paid will be reimbursed to the importers and the duty rate will go to zero. If that continues for a series of years, the whole proceeding will be wiped clean and free trade will return to the marketplace (for the first time since 1996).
Vine-Ripened vs. Mature-Green
“The FPAA’s claims about vine-ripened tomatoes are also meant to distract from the fact that the Commerce Department found Mexico guilty of dumping. It doesn’t matter if Mexican growers were dumping the most delicious vine-ripened tomatoes picked at peak ripeness from their grandmother’s garden. Dumping is dumping. It’s a legal calculus.
“American growers produce every type of tomato that is grown in Mexico. There are American growers who produce tomatoes in greenhouses and American growers who produce tomatoes in an open-field environment, which is what we mainly do in Florida. Tomatoes can be harvested as mature-green or as vine-ripened. There is a market for both of these production methods.
“For your reference: mature-green tomatoes are picked when they are still green on the outside, but have reached an interior maturity level that allows them to still fully ripen once picked. Think of a green banana.
“Most mature-green tomatoes are put into a ripening room with ethylene, which is a common practice for many of the fruits we eat. Most bananas, avocados, stone fruit, mangos, and pears go through the same ethylene ripening-room process as mature-green tomatoes. Using a ripening room after harvest allows more control over the timing of the ripening process. Ethylene is produced naturally by fruits as they ripen, but the ripening room adds extra ethylene.
“There are American growers who grow mainly vine-ripened tomatoes and there are American growers who predominantly grow mature-green tomatoes. A big segment of Florida’s production is geared toward mature green tomatoes, but we also produce a lot of vine-ripened tomatoes.
“There’s also a marketing element to the term ‘vine-ripened’ since it brings to mind how you would pick a tomato grown in your backyard. For commercial growers, it’s a different story since tomatoes often travel long distances to market and have to meet a certain shelf-life once they arrive. In many cases, so called ‘vine ripened’ tomatoes are still picked at a very green stage, often with just a hint of a blush.
“For example, here is a video of some Mexican vine-ripened tomatoes:
Last point about ‘vine ripened’ tomatoes: Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as a mature green grape or cherry tomato. All snacking tomato varieties are vine-ripened, whether they’re grown in the field or in a fully enclosed glass greenhouse. In recent years, American growers of (vine-ripened) grape tomatoes have been among the most impacted by cheap imports of Mexican tomatoes. That fact, however, doesn’t fit nicely with the FPAA narrative.”