Mexico Says Tariffs Will Send Tomato Prices Soaring in US

Mexico exports about $2 billion in tomatoes to the United States annually

Mexico's Economy Department said Tuesday that U.S. consumers could pay 38% to 70% more for tomatoes after the U.S. Commerce Department announced it would re-impose anti-dumping duties on Mexican imports.

The Mexican agency said the country exports about $2 billion in tomatoes to the United States and supplies about half the tomatoes the U.S. consumes annually.

"Definitely, we'll have fewer tomatoes," said Essie Rodriguez of JD Produce near the Dallas Farmers Market. "We always get caught in the middle."

The family-owned JD Produce imports much of its produce from Mexico. Rodriguez said tomatoes account for one-third of their orders, and are the company's most popular item.

The Mexico Economy Department said that many small- and medium-sized Mexican tomato exporters won't be able to pay the deposits required to export. Tomatoes are Mexico's largest agricultural export after beer and avocados, and tomato growing and harvesting provides about 400,000 jobs in Mexico.

But the deposits required to comply with the 17.5% U.S. tariff would amount to about $350 million, money that many Mexican producers don't have.

In March the Commerce Department announced it was ending a 2013 suspension agreement in which Mexican growers promised to sell at fair prices, and that it would reinstate the 1996 tariffs. The Mexican government said its growers continue to negotiate with the U.S., and expressed hope that another agreement, like ones that have been in place for 23 years, could be reached.

"It's been a roller coaster ride on many products from Mexico, and it's one more that's going to impact the consumer," Rodriguez said. "Unfortunately, we have to pass on the higher price to the consumer."

U.S. growers, mainly in Florida, say Mexican tomato producers charge below fair prices; U.S. growers also have a hard time competing with Mexico's extremely low wages.

However, the availability of Mexican tomatoes has increased the availability of fresh tomatoes year-round and helped lead to an increase in U.S. tomato consumption from an average of about 12 pounds per person in the 1980s to almost 21 pounds in 2011.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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