(Oct. 17) Mexico’s new preliminary anti-dumping duty of 44.77% on red and golden delicious apples from the U.S. Northwest, announced Sept. 29, tastes like protectionism, just like its predecessor.

The former duty of 46.58%, which a Mexican court eliminated in May because of a legal technicality, took a toll on U.S. exports. Only $56 million worth of U.S. apples were sold to Mexico in 2004, compared with $118 million in 2001, before the duty was imposed in August 2002.

When that duty was levied, Randy Steensma, then marketing manager for Honeycrisp Apple Growers & Marketing Co., Wenatchee, Wash., said Mexican growers were used to selling apples for $20 a carton but that U.S. growers could turn a profit selling at f.o.b.s of $12-14.

Apparently those Mexican growers, who pressured their government to impose the duty, can’t believe someone can produce apples more cheaply than they can.

Or worse could be inferred from a comment this month by Kelly Jones, partner in Paqime SPR de RI, Nuevo Casas Grandes, Mexico, a marketer representing about 100 apple growers in Mexico.

“In 1992, when the border opened to apples, the (Mexican) government didn’t have programs in place to help the growers, and dozens and dozens of growers went belly up,” he said. “They are just trying to find a way to survive.”

He was speaking of talks between U.S. and Mexican growers to hammer out a suspension agreement that would impose a floor price for U.S. apples — a price that could include $2-3 to be spent on Mexico’s infrastructure, among other things. But the comment seems also to show motive for an anti-dumping duty.

Also troubling is the fact that the duty was imposed, at least in part, because many Northwest exporters this year failed to produce for investigators sales data from 1994 through 1996.

Jim Archer, manager of the Northwest Fruit Exporters, Yakima, Wash., said some exporters probably no longer had such old records. Moreover, he said a price suspension agreement would never be reached as long as some exporters receive exemptions to the full anti-dumping duty, thus enjoying an advantage over their competitors.

Now Mexico says it wants to see records for Jan. 1, 2004, through June 30, 2005. If it really was concerned about current practices, it should have asked for recent sales data to begin with in this latest investigation — before any new duty was imposed.