Duties requested by FTE would limit vine-ripened tomatoes, harm U.S. businesses, and drive up consumer prices in the face of crippling food inflation.
The recent request by the Florida Tomato Exchange (FTE) asking the Department of Commerce to withdraw from the 2019 Tomato Suspension Agreement jeopardizes the availability of the variety of tomatoes that US consumers expect at prices they can afford and would harm U.S. businesses. Through these actions, the FTE continues to attempt to use antidumping laws for the unintended purpose of creating a monopoly for themselves in the marketplace and covering for their unwillingness or inability to innovate and adapt to changing market demands.
The FTE has been making the same false claims for years but when pressed to present evidence in regulatory proceedings, they have failed to do so because their claims are untrue, nothing but propaganda intended to skew the political process to their advantage, regardless of the cost to consumers, retailers, and even other American farmers. The duties that are being sought by the FTE would harm U.S. importers but would ultimately be paid by American consumers who want better tomatoes, not higher prices, reduced varieties, and lower quality tomatoes.
“The allegations by the Florida growers are as timeworn and tired as their gassed green tomatoes,” said Lance Jungmeyer, FPAA president. “Consumers overwhelmingly prefer the flavor of vine ripened tomatoes over gassed green tomatoes like those from Florida. Mexico is a major supplier of vine ripened tomatoes which is one reason why the FTE wants to erect a trade barrier. There really is no substitute for a vine ripened tomato, and to put in duties would simply amount to another tax that shoppers just can’t afford.”
The FTE is a special interest group whose members have failed to innovate. What they fail to mention publicly is that many of the largest Florida growers clamoring for protection are also some of the largest financers/owners of growing operations in Mexico and some of the largest buyers of Mexican tomatoes in the U.S. The wealthiest handful of FTE members also control networks of regional tomato repackers across the U.S. that, in turn, control access to retail markets. They position themselves as victims in an attempt to game U.S. trade law to create a monopoly for themselves in the tomato market by ensuring a market for selling inferior tomatoes and controlling the flow of their own Mexico-sourced tomatoes at higher prices caused by duties. If the FTE gets its way, a vast majority of U.S. importers would be harmed as FTE members expand their control of what tomatoes consumers can buy at significantly higher prices.
Such a political action by the U.S. acting on behalf of a U.S. special interest group would almost certainly result in retaliatory actions by Mexico, the second largest importer of US agricultural products. U.S. growers of other commodities that rely on Mexico as a key export market would be hurt in the FTE effort to line the pockets of a small number of wealthy Florida businessmen.
Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA) members continue to be committed to bringing consumers high-quality, good tasting, innovative tomato varieties such as green house and shade house grown, vine-ripened round and roma tomatoes, tomatoes on the vine, and cherry and grape tomatoes in an array of colors, all available in pack styles and presentations for a wide mix of uses. Consumer tastes have evolved, so U.S. companies work with world-class growers in the U.S., Mexico, Canada, and other countries to meet that demand.
Tomatoes sold in the U.S. from Mexico are controlled by the U.S. Department of Commerce through the Tomato Suspension Agreement which sets minimum pricing, puts in place requirements for sales between importers and buyers, requires exhaustive inspections for quality, and has stringent enforcement and compliance monitoring measures in place. This includes regular quarterly audits, administrative reviews, on-site audits from the U.S. Department of Commerce, and enforcement measures in place in Mexico. Contrary to FTE’s false claims, the Department of Commerce has consistently found Mexican tomatoes have complied fully with the Tomato Suspension Agreement. Since the implementation of mandatory quality inspections that Florida growers demanded under the 2019 Tomato Suspension Agreement, 99.992 percent of all tomatoes that must be inspected from Mexico have met or exceeded all quality requirements.
Florida does not produce tomatoes that American consumers want to buy. Florida grows gassed green tomatoes much in the same way they were produced during World War I, which is to say that they are picked green, and “degreened” by placing them in gas rooms, exposing them to ethylene. The result is a tomato that does not compare in flavor or texture to tomatoes that are ripened on the vine. Americans buy gassed green tomatoes when there are no better options available.
They have also failed to innovate in other ways as well — not the least of which is how they have ignored protected agriculture. The rest of the world (Mexico, Canada, U.S. states outside of Florida, Latin America, Europe, Asia) has evolved and learned to use green house, shade house, and similar protected agriculture technologies that offer advantages in quality, increased yields, and food safety protections. Through each renegotiation of a Tomato Suspension Agreement, Florida continues to move the goal posts by adding new requirements for Mexican tomatoes to be imported. However, making it harder or more costly for Mexican tomatoes to be imported will not change the fact that Florida is unwilling or unable to adapt how they grow tomatoes while the rest of the world has evolved to meet consumers’ changing tastes. Florida unreasonably asks for government protection from imported Mexican tomatoes to cover up their inability to adapt and grown tomatoes that consumers prefer.
Florida has been hampered by high costs of production, weather-related volatility like hurricanes, pest pressures, and poor soil quality that limit competitiveness. They also have limited options in the environment that they grow tomatoes in, where shade house, green house, and organic tomato production are very difficult.
This is a conclusion supported by Florida’s own researchers. A University of Florida study states, “Most of the soils used to produce peppers and tomatoes in Florida are some sort of sand, ranging from coarse “ball bearing” sands to fine “sugar” sands. In other pepper and tomato producing regions, most notably in the Homestead area, what passes for soil is basically pulverized limestone from ancient coral reefs. In either case, Florida’s soil is merely a media to hold plants that provides little in terms of nutrients beyond what the grower supplies.” Florida is a hostile place to grow tomatoes, and yet they continue to blame U.S. importers for those woes.
What FTE members have discovered is they do not have to innovate and find new ways to meet consumer demands. They can invest in Mexico themselves, construct repack operations to control access to the market, cry for protection for their inferior tomatoes grown in Florida, and ask the U.S. government to give them the keys to control the entire North American tomato market by driving other U.S. importers out of business through the imposition of duties.
The FPAA and its members look forward to continuing to work with the Department of Commerce on ensuring compliance to the 2019 Tomato Suspension Agreement. FPAA members also look forward to continuing to work hard to meet consumer demands so that high-quality, affordable tomatoes are available in the U.S.