Last month, Florida lawmakers led a charge to peel away from the decades-long Tomato Suspension Agreement, a regulation enacted in 1996 by the U.S. Department of Commerce that set different floors for tomato prices during the summer and winter months. The initial push behind the agreement was put in place to make sure imports of fresh tomatoes coming in from Mexico were sold at the right value in the United States.
The attempt to curb produce imports from Mexico in order to boost shares for local tomato producers in Florida has been spearheaded by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), but it’s been met with large bipartisan resistance, especially in Arizona where representatives and senators on both sides of the aisle penned a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross expressing the potential downfalls of pulling out of the agreement. Tomatoes provide 33,000 jobs in Arizona as well as a nearly $5 billion economic boost. Any alteration to the agreement could cause growers in Mexico to plant and trade other produce items, resulting in lost jobs and higher tomato prices in grocery stores.
Now, the governor of Sonora, Arizona’s direct neighbor to the south, Claudia Artemiza Pavlovich Arellano, is sharing those sentiments in a letter to Sec. Ross.
“This action, if pursued, could have a devastating impact on Sonora State Mexican workers,” Pavlovich writes in the letter. “As the Governor of Sonora this affair deeply concerns me as there are more than 55,000 workers directly employed in the tomato and other produce industries as well as another 125,000 jobs that are indirectly linked to this industry.”
In the eyes of the lawmakers in Florida pushing for the end of the agreement, Mexico’s portion of the tomato market in the United States has jumped from 32 percent to 54 percent, compared to local producers who have seen a drop from 65 percent to 40 percent. But the catch is that Florida’s biggest competitor bringing in tomatoes is Mexico. This would possibly cut trade down with the country, which is Arizona’s biggest partner in trading tomatoes.
“These demands appear to be nothing more than an attempt by a few Florida companies to obtain protection in order to eliminate competition from Mexico and other U.S. distributors in the U.S. market, rising at a time when the future of the USMCA is in doubt,” writes Pavlovich.
In a recent statement from the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas (FPAA), the organization is also coming out strongly against the move to pull out of the agreement, stating that even if a small reduction is put in place, “consumers would end up paying up to 25 cents more per pound at supermarkets, or up to $790 million more per year for tomatoes.”
“The truth appears to be that leaders of the Florida Tomato Exchange (FTE) are on a campaign to portray themselves as the victims to trade while leveraging U.S. trade law to corner the market and drive out competition,” FPAA President Lance Jungmeyer said in the March 12 news release.
The commerce department has about two months left until a final decision needs to be made.