U.S. Department of Commerce reaches new deal on Mexican tomato imports

Mexican tomato growers and exporters reached a deal with the U.S. Department of Commerce on a new tomato suspension agreement. The five-year agreement, which has been volleyed back and forth since the cancellation of the original agreement in May, will now enter a public comment period before it goes into effect on September 19.

A series of five-year suspension agreements between the Mexican growers and the U.S. Department of Commerce since 1996 had originally set prices for Mexican tomato imports and suspended dumping investigations from the United States.

Importers in the U.S. will be entitled to reimbursement of cash deposits made from May 7 to Sept. 19. Mexican growers were slapped with a 17.56 percent anti-dumping duty on May 7 before seeing that number rise to 25.28 percent.

“An agreement between the United States and Mexico to ensure that the importation of great-tasting fresh tomatoes from Mexico remains duty-free is good news not only for U.S. shoppers, but for the thousands of Arizona jobs that depend on robust produce trade between our two countries,” said Glenn Hamer, president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry. 

Although local stakeholders applaud the decision to eliminate the duty on tomato imports, some are concerned about the new provision requiring increased inspections. 

“The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas is gratified that the United States Department of Commerce and Mexican tomato growers have produced a new draft Tomato Suspension Agreement that will end the current duties on tomatoes exported from Mexico to the U.S.,” Fresh Produce Association of the Americas President Lance Jungmeyer in a statement. “At the same time, the FPAA is profoundly concerned that a provision in the draft agreement appears to require inspections of up to 92% of all lots of tomatoes from Mexico at the U.S. border.”

According to Jungmeyer, inspections may create substantial delays that compromise the quality and availability of tomatoes to American consumers.

Tomatoes are a major economic staple in the U.S., and especially in Arizona. They make up nearly 20 percent of the produce imports that come in from Mexico, the United States’ current top trading partner. Increasing the volume of tomatoes that undergo inspection creates backlogs and warehouse jams for tomatoes and other goods that go through the ports of entry and could cause a ripple effect.

The new suspension agreement has felt like a long time coming as importers in Arizona, exporters in Mexico, and lawmakers and advocates at the legislative level have expressed their ire about the cancellation of the agreement. A stack of letters have been written by everyone from Gov. Doug Ducey to the FPAA, imploring the Commerce Department to re-think its decision.

Most recently Arizona’s U.S. senators Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema co-authored a letter urging the U.S. Department of Commerce to reach a new agreement. 

Nick Esquer

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