(May 24) The forecast is improving for a deal between Mexican tomato growers and the U.S. Department of Commerce.

After some in Nogales expressed concern early this month that the Department of Commerce was too busy with steel dumping cases and other disputes to bother with a price suspension agreement for tomatoes, it appears the agency has made room in its appointment book.

MOVING DEADLINE

On May 17, the Department of Commerce pushed back its deadline from the end of May to the end of August to finish a sunset review of the suspended anti-dumping duty investigation on fresh tomatoes from Mexico.

The Commerce Department indicated in a Federal Register notice it was extending the review to “appropri-ately address issues relevant in the department’s ongoing renegotiations of the suspended agreement on Mexican tomatoes.”

The department intends to issue final results of this sunset review not later than Aug. 27. The previous deadline for the ITA sunset review of the suspension agreement had been the end of May.

Meanwhile, an International Trade Commission hearing on the case was rescheduled from Aug. 2 to Oct. 3, said Peg O’Laughlin, ITC public affairs spokeswoman.

Lee Frankel, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nogales, Ariz., said he expects the final vote of the ITC on the injury question would be in late November, in the event no suspension agreement is worked out before that time.

OPEN TO NEGOTIATE

There appears to be sentiment on both sides of the border to renegotiate a minimum price suspension agreement rather than roll the dice with ITC on the injury question. If no injury is found, then U.S. growers would have no leverage against Mexican tomatoes. If the ITC votes in November that injury would continue as a result of Mexican dumping of tomatoes, Mexican growers could face big new tariffs.

“I think there is gong to be a deal struck,” Tony DiMare, an officer with Homestead, Fla.-based DiMare Homestead Inc. “I think Commerce recognizes there is a common interest on both sides of this.”