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U.S. and Mexico reach deal on tomato imports

The United States and Mexico have reached a tentative agreement on cross-border trade in tomatoes, averting a trade war that threatened to engulf a broad swath of U.S. businesses, including Florida tomato growers.

The agreement, reached late Saturday, raises the minimum price at which Mexican tomatoes can be sold in the United States, aims to strengthen compliance and enforcement, and increases the types of tomatoes governed by the pact to four from one.

"The draft agreement raises reference prices substantially, in some cases more than double the current reference price for certain products, and accounts for changes that have occurred in the tomato market since the signing of the original agreement," Francisco Sanchez, undersecretary of commerce for international trade, said in a statement.

The pact will be open for public comment until Feb. 11. The Commerce Department estimated it would go into effect March 4.

Estimates are that nearly one of every two tomatoes eaten in the United States comes from Mexico.

Last fall, Florida tomato growers asked the Commerce Department to end a 16-year-old agreement. The agreement had been amended several times over the years, but Florida growers contended it set the minimum price of Mexican tomatoes so low they couldn't compete. The growers said the new agreement addressed their three main concerns: pricing of Mexican tomatoes, the number of growers covered and enforcement.

"We believe that the Department of Commerce and Mexico have struck a deal that meets those three tests, and we're hopeful and optimistic that we'll be able to compete under fair trade conditions," Edward Beckman, president of Certified Greenhouse Farmers, said in a statement.

The new agreement covers all fresh and chilled tomatoes, excluding those fruits intended for use in processing like canning, dehydrating and juices, sauces and purees. It raises the basic floor price for winter tomatoes to 31 cents a pound from 21.69 cents a pound, higher than the price the Mexicans were proposing in December, establishing even higher prices for specialty tomatoes and tomatoes grown in controlled environments.

U.S. and Mexico reach deal on tomato imports 02/03/13 [Last modified: Sunday, February 3, 2013 11:30pm]
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