Mexican tomatoes may be shut out of US market

Mexican tomatoes may be shut out of US market

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The U.S. Department of Commerce is proposing a pair of changes to end the anti dumping investigation between Florida tomato growers and Mexican tomato growers which is decades old.

Under the agreement, every Mexican tomato coming into the United States would be required to be inspected at the border instead of the present 8 percent.

The agreement also would prevent Mexican growers from reaching compensation deals with buyers in the case of rejected or “bad” tomatoes.

In a letter to the Department of Commerce, Arizona Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Martha McSally argued both provisions are unfair and would cost Arizona jobs and cross border commerce.

They said jointly the provisions are “unworkable” and unnecessary.

“We are fighting for our lives in this business,” said Lance Jungmeyer, President of the Fresh Produce Association. “This is a solution in search of a problem.”

Jungmeyer says 99.9 percent of the tomatoes which are required to be inspected pass grade.

To require all the tomatoes in all of the trucks, which can be more than 300 a day, to be inspected basically shuts down the industry.

At the present time, about half the tomatoes on store shelves in the course of a year are domestic and about half are Mexican.

While the domestic market is growing, there’s not enough capacity now to replace the tomatoes coming from South of the border.

There are also differences in quality, consumer demand and price.

If the US growers suffer a hard freeze in winter, the Mexican grower serves as a back up. Without that, the consumers could see shortages and higher prices.

Jaime Chamberlain, President of J-C Distributors in Nogales, helped draft the letter which was sent to the Department of Commerce.

“It’s great to see our two Senators, from different parties, taking a stand on this,” he said. “They get it.”

Chamberlain’s family has been in the cross border produce trade for half a century.

He said not being able to negotiate for rejected tomatoes puts them at an unfair advantage with domestic growers.

“You wouldn’t buy a car without a warranty,” he said. “The buyers of our products feel the same.”

His family business has been hit first by tariffs and now the uncertainty from the commerce department. That has him looking for other markets sell his produce.

“Going to Europe, going to Asia, that’s something we’re exploring a lot more,” he said. “We think there are opportunities there."

He says he’d prefer to sell in the US because its a bigger market and has been part of the cross border trade since 1895 “but going to Europe is not out of the question.”

The Mexican tomato industry is estimated to create 33,000 jobs and is responsible for $5 billion in trade.

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