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US: Business groups oppose ending U.S.-Mexico tomato agreement

Several U.S. business representatives voiced their opposition to the U.S. Department of Commerce's likely move to halt a 16-year agreement between the U.S. and Mexico regarding the tomato trade between the two nations.

“The entire business community, except for a select group of growers in Florida, have voiced that this proposed move will raise prices for consumers,” said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. “Terminating the agreement would be disastrous.”

Last week, the Department of Commerce issued a preliminary decision to terminate a trade agreement that regulated the introduction of Mexican tomatoes to the U.S. On Tuesday, Jungmeyer and a group of trade representatives voiced their concerns about the potential impact such a decision would have, and many noted that the timing of last week's preliminary decision smacks of election year politics.

“Our concern is that this has all the marks of a process that has begun and is proceeding in order to take advantage of an election timetable,” said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council. He noted that because Florida is expected to be a key state in the upcoming Presidential election, concessions are being made to Florida tomato growers in order to shore up support there.

“The desire of trying to move this quickly is politically motivated,” said John McClung, president of the Texas International Produce Association. He added that such a move would have effects that would ripple throughout the produce industry and beyond.

“One of our concerns is that Mexico has been very willing to retaliate vigorously, and they've made it clear that if the agreement is terminated they will retaliate, and not just with tomatoes, but with other items,” he said. Given that Mexico and the U.S. are intertwined so closely on matters of trade, it's feared that this could lead to escalating retaliatory trade moves by both countries. It's feared that would impact many industries on both sides of the border.

“Mexican tomatoes are a huge export product to the United States,” said McClung. “So it's a point of pride for Mexico, and what has taken place with many officials over there is that they feel an affront so they will feel justified in taking action about something which they feel will harm their economy.”

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