Tomato grower-shippers in Mexico and others in the industry were caught off-guard in late August when the U.S. Commerce Department, at the request of Florida tomato interests, announced the possible end to the tomato suspension agreement that had set a floor price for imports since the mid-1990s.

Fears of a trade war emerge with Commerce Department announcement.

Aug. 27
Anti-dumping agreement review brings charges of tomato trade war
By Tom Karst, National Editor

Agreeing to take another look at the anti-dumping suspension agreement on fresh tomatoes imported from Mexico, the Department of Commerce said the agency will take comments until Sept. 4 on the pact that has governed the price of imported Mexican tomatoes since 1996.

The Commerce Department’s review falls short of what some U.S. tomato interests had wanted — an outright termination of the suspension agreement. Florida tomato interests say they have been subject to unfair trade practices from Mexican tomato exporters for years.

According to the Department of Commerce, the suspension agreement covers more than 85% of the Mexico’s tomato shipments to the U.S.

AMHPAC, the Mexican greenhouse grower group, readies for a fight.

Sept. 3
Mexico greenhouse producers debate tomato suspension agreement
By Fred Wilkinson, Managing Editor

GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Mexico’s greenhouse tomato producers are working for peace but preparing for war.

While Mexican tomato industry representatives continue working with commerce officials to avoid a possible trade war resulting from Florida growers’ call to end the tomato suspension agreement, members of AMHPAC approved an assessment based on a grower’s acreage to raise funds for legal fees in the case.

The vote was Aug. 22, the opening day of the annual convention of AMHPAC, the Mexican association of protected horticulture.

Eric Viramontes, AMHPAC director general and chief executive officer, said the marketplace has room for growers from all regions and that Florida’s effort distracted from a shared interest in growing U.S. tomato consumption.

“We would love not to fight,” Viramontes said Aug. 24.

He said scuttling the agreement could bring retaliatory action from Mexico.

3. Tomato suspension agreement under fireOct. 1
U.S.-Mexico tomato deal looks dead
By Tom Karst, National Editor

The tomato suspension agreement between Mexican tomato growers and the U.S. appears to be doomed, potentially opening up new trade frictions between the two countries.

Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nogales, Ariz., said the importing community in Nogales was shocked about the decision, which the group said was possibly motivated by political interests in favor of the Obama administration.

The Department of Commerce announced a preliminary decision Sept. 27 to terminate the suspended anti-dumping investigation, effectively killing the 16-year-old suspension agreement.

“Our preference would have been for a final ruling as opposed to a preliminary ruling, but we appreciate the challenge the Commerce had in sorting through the various filings that have come forward,” said Reggie Brown, vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, Maitland.

Oct. 8
Mexico warns of possible trade war
By Coral Beach, Staff Writer

Verbal volleys continue in the conflict about the 16-year-old Mexican tomato suspension agreement, with both sides promising to pull out the big guns.

“Mexico will respond. You should ask those who were in the Mexican crosshairs over the trucking dispute. When Mexico aims, Mexico hits the target,” said Auturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S.

Sarukhan issued the warning of a trade war to U.S. media after the Department of Commerce said Sept. 27 it might end the trade agreement, which set a floor price for Mexican tomato imports after an anti-dumping investigation.

His reference to retaliatory tariffs concerns a cross-border trucking program dispute that included duties on U.S. products including table grapes, potatoes and apples. U.S. supporters of the tomato agreement have said they fear Mexico would reestablish those tariffs if the suspension agreement is terminated.

The Department of Commerce made its intentions official Oct. 2 by publishing a notice of intent to terminate the tomato deal in the Federal Register. The department has nine months before it must make a final decision.

Oct. 15
Greenhouse growers enter U.S.-Mexico tomato dispute
By Tom Karst, National Editor

Another front has been opened in the conflict between U.S. and Mexican tomato producers.

In the midst of uncertainty over the fate of the suspension agreement between Mexican growers and Florida, there is a proposal from California to more tightly define greenhouse tomatoes and other produce, creating marketing restrictions on vegetables grown in shadehouses and other “protected agriculture” environments in Mexico.

Imports of greenhouse tomatoes from Mexico have risen sharply in recent years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. About one-quarter of the 949,000 metric tons of Mexican tomatoes imported into the U.S. in 2007 were labeled greenhouse grown. In 2011, that number was 39% of 1.32 million metric tons.

Certified Greenhouse Farmers, Fresno, Calif., took its case to the California Department of Food and Agriculture on Oct. 9, testifying for a proposed amendment defining hydroponic greenhouse produce.

Oct. 29
Mexican growers propose higher tomato floor prices
By Coral Beach, Staff Writer

Mexican growers have proposed a compromise to raise the floor price of tomatoes exported to the U.S., pre-empting a decision by the Commerce Department, which has tentatively decided to drop the 16-year-old agreement that set the initial price.

Representatives for Mexican growers met with Commerce Department officials and proposed boosting the floor price of imported Mexican tomatoes 18% to 25%, depending on tomato variety. The Oct. 18 meeting also included a proposal to bring all Mexican growers into the agreement, which currently covers about 85% of them.

Martin Ley, vice president of Nogales, Ariz.-based Del Campo Supreme Inc., was among the delegation meeting with U.S. officials. He told The New York Times after the meeting that the proposal would prevent prices from “hitting the floor.”

Specific details of the proposal remain confidential among those involved in negotiations about the tomato suspension agreement. Commerce Department officials did not return calls for comment.

Reggie Brown, executive director of the Florida Tomato Exchange, said Oct. 19 that he hadn’t seen the proposal but heard about it in media reports. However, he said Florida growers believe the trade agreement was fundamentally flawed from the beginning.

Dec. 10
Review set for tomato agreement
By Tom Karst, National Editor

With talks to resolve escalated trade tensions between Mexican and U.S. tomato growers still alive, the U.S. government is initiating a review of the existing suspension agreement.

The sunset review by the U.S. International Trade Commission was publicized in the Dec. 3 Federal Register, but the date was set years ago as part of the agreement’s five-year review, said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.