MEXICO CITY — Mexican tomato growers have made what they say is an unprecedented proposal to the U.S. Commerce Department to salvage a 16-year-old pricing agreement for exports to the United States.
The proposal would extend the current accord to cover 100 percent of Mexican tomatoes instead of the current 85 percent, Martin Ley, a representative for the growers from Mexico, said in an interview after meeting with Commerce Department officials Thursday in Washington. His group is also offering to add 18 to 25 percent to the floor price, depending on the type of tomato.
"We have presented a very comprehensive proposal," Ley said. The offer to increase the floor price is "about six to eight times higher than the previous increases we've had under the agreement."
Acting on a petition from U.S. producers led by Florida growers, the Commerce Department on Sept. 27 issued a preliminary decision to end the agreement, which has been in place since 1996. A final decision could come between mid November and late May.
While U.S. producers say that doing away with the agreement will result in a free market, American importers and the Mexican farmers say it may trigger tariffs and ignite a trade war.
Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico's ambassador to the United States, said last month that the Commerce Department's action "seems to be dictated by politics rather than policy" and that his nation was prepared to challenge the preliminary decision.
Reggie Brown, executive director of the Florida Tomato Exchange, a growers group, said politics has nothing to do with the request to end the agreement.
"It's about simple economics and fair trade," he said, and the goal of the U.S. growers remains "the restoration of fair terms of competition in the tomato trade."
A higher price floor "won't have an impact on the U.S. consumer, because the tomatoes we bring to the U.S. market already command a high price," Ley said. Retail prices for the goods in the U.S. can vary from $1.20 a pound to $3.99 a pound during the course of the year, depending on the type of tomato, he said.
The Commerce Department declined to comment on the Mexican proposal.
Mexico exported $2.1 billion worth of tomatoes last year, 93 percent to the U.S., the nation's Agriculture Ministry said.