(June 26) OTTAWA — A protracted legal dogfight that brought major disruption to the tomato business in both the U.S. and Canada drew to a close June 26 when the Canadian International Trade Tribunal ruled that U.S. tomatoes had not caused injury to Canada’s tomato industry.

“It’s over, and I’m glad,” said Denton Hoffman, general manager of the Leamington-based Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Producers Marketing Board. ”We’ve already met this morning with the (North American) Tomato Trade Work Group, preparing for the future with free and fair trade. That’s what we’ve always wanted.”

Hoffman also is chairman of the Canadian Tomato Trade Alliance, which had filed an anti-dumping suit against the U.S. tomato industry June 28, 2001.

The Canadian International Trade Tribunal issued its ruling without comment, only to say that “the dumping of the aforementioned goods has not caused material injury or retardation and is not threatening to cause material injury to the domestic industry.”

Michel Granger, tribunal secretary, said that the tribunal would issue a statement of reasons for its ruling within 15 days of the ruling.

Canadian producers had contended that excess U.S. product had brought injury to their businesses.

But Hoffman downplayed the finding.

“I think it might be a ‘soft’ no-injury ruling,” he said. “It’s really hard to say; it may be a ‘you have injury or you don’t’ kind of thing. We’d like them to not even comment on that, but they did.”

Ed Beckman, president of the Fresno-based California Tomato Committee, however, emphasized the importance of the no-injury finding.

He also echoed Hoffman’s hope to leave the matter behind.

“We’re ready to put this dispute behind us and hit the ground running through the North American Tomato Trade Work Group on issues that have an economic impact on growers in both Canada and the United States,” Beckman said in a prepared statement. “U.S. and Canadian growers have common concerns, and we’re committed to working together through (the work group) to create a stable marketing environment in North America for all growers.”

Grower organizations in the U.S. and Canada formed the work group in February to improve communication and prevent future trade disputes, Beckman said.

Now, that group will have a chance to fulfill that role, said Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Orlando-based Florida Tomato Committee.

“If somebody is thinking about getting involved in a produce dumping suit, I’d like to talk to them,” Brown said.

In essence, the case changed nothing, Brown said.

“Unfortunately, we spent a bunch a money,” he said. “But we’re delighted it ended as it ended. The customers putting up the margins will ultimately get their money back. The industry groups are moving forward constructively to talk through some of these issues, rather than litigate. So hopefully, progress has been made although it was a pretty high-priced lesson.”

The work group is tentatively planning to meet in August, Brown said.

“Hopefully we don’t have any major issues left to deal with,” he said. “It’s just a matter of trying to find things to work together and make progress on.”

The work group also is hoping to bring in a Mexican contingent, Brown added.

“We certainly have an interest in bringing the Mexican interests in, so we can talk about the broad range of issues that affect the whole North American tomato market,” he said.

U.S. shippers sell more than $30 million in tomatoes to Canada each year, Beckman said.

“Since the filing of the trade action, Canadian businesses have posted hundreds of thousands of dollars in duties that were collected on U.S. tomatoes that were imported to Canada,” he said.

The Canadian Customs and Revenue Agency had assigned preliminary duties ranging from zero to 71%, with most of the latter applying to companies that the agency said did not fully cooperate in the agency's preliminary investigation stemming from the suit.

Exporters who cooperated in the agency’s review — or whose information was accepted as complete — were assessed individually. Exporters not contacted by the Canadian government to participate in the review were assessed a generic rate of 22%.

With the Canadian International Trade Tribunal decision, all duties were terminated. Canadian customs will refund those duties within 60-90 days, Beckman said.

In filing its suit against U.S. fresh imports, Canada’s industry claimed that the U.S. had been dumping its product into Canada below market prices. The Canadian Tomato Trade Alliance blamed shipments from Florida and California.

“I think that the tomato wars were really a waste,” said Jay Colasanti, co-owner of Ruthven, Ontario-based Red Zoo Marketing. “I hope that we’ve finally reached the point where we’ve actually got it to closure. I somewhat hesitate to say that because we’ve been led down this path before, where we have an agreement and somebody changed the verbiage at the last minute that tried to trip up the program.

“Hopefully, what we have now is going to sit now and we won’t see it rear its ugly head for several, several, several years.”