Up to 33,000 US jobs are threatened by a Department of Commerce decision that would have the double impact of increasing tomato prices for American consumers, according to the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA).
Tomato supplies stand to drop, with corresponding price increases for US consumers, as a result of Commerce’s notice of intent to withdraw from the Tomato Suspension Agreement, FPAA outlined.
FPAA pointed out that, even in the conservative case of a 5 per cent reduction in supplies of Mexican tomatoes, consumers would end up paying up to 25 cents more per pound at supermarkets, or up to US$790 million more per year for tomatoes, according to a University of Arizona report.
In recent decades, America’s demand for vine-ripened tomatoes, tomatoes-on-the-vine, romas, cherry and grape tomatoes, organics and more has been increasingly filled by farms in Mexico, which has a climate that is particularly suited to tomatoes. The demand for vine-ripened Mexican tomatoes has built up a supply chain that supports over 33,000 US jobs and nearly US$3bn in US GDP.
FPAA said in a recent letter to Commerce Sec. Ross that, in order to corner the market over their other competitors, a small group of wealthy tomato farmers from the politically connected Florida Tomato Exchange have been pushing "unreasonable changes" to interstate commerce norms.
“The truth appears to be that leaders of the Florida Tomato Exchange (FTE) are on a campaign to portray themselves as the victims to trade while leveraging US trade law to corner the market and drive out competition,” said FPAA president Lance Jungmeyer.
Farmers from Florida continue to grow gassed-green tomatoes, an innovation from before World War II in which tomatoes are picked green, then artificially “de-greened” in gas rooms that have been injected with ethylene gas. These gassed tomatoes have lost consumer appeal to vine-ripened tomatoes grown in most other growing regions.
FPAA said that at the same time that Florida Tomato Exchange members claim harm from Mexican tomato imports, these very companies have been driving investments and partnerships in Mexico
“It is beyond ironic that the growers which grow the largest percentage of Florida tomatoes also own and finance some of the largest growing operations in Mexico,” Jungmeyer said.
In its letter to the Department of Commerce, the FPAA encouraged continuation of the Tomato Suspension Agreement, which prevents expensive duties on Mexican tomatoes and ensures continued supplies of the tomatoes that consumer prefer.