US-Mexico Trade Concerns Over Tomato Imports

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is "The World". Mexican tomato growers say they want to avoid a trade war with the United States. That's why they're offering to raise their minimum prices for export to the US. The US Commerce Department is considering pulling the plug on a sixteen-year-old trade agreement regulating Mexican tomato imports. American tomato growers in Florida complain they can't compete with cheaper imports under the trade pact. All of this could have a big impact on consumers. According to the USDA, one in three tomatoes we consume here in the US is imported and mostly from Mexico. Martin Ley represents a consortium of Mexican tomato growers and is a grower himself. He's in Washington DC. So American tomato growers have been complaining about the low cost of you Mexican imports for a long time. Why did your consortium wait until now to offer to raise your prices?

Martin Ley: Well, the reason why we are here in Washington right now is because we have been working with the Department of Commerce under negotiations of a agreement that has been in place for sixteen years. This agreement was going to be ending at the end of this year, so we needed to negotiate this agreement anyways. They claim the agreement has nothing good for them, but we have been proving, year after year, to the Department of Commerce and also to the US industry that the agreement has been good for everybody. We have been able to a better tomato in the market place. We have been able to invest in new technologies that have made us better tomato growers and better use of technology has made us also much more efficient.

Werman: What if the agreement is scrapped in Washington? What happens to your tomatoes from Mexico?

Ley: Well, if the agreement is scrapped, what you will see immediately is you're going to see a chill effect on the tomatoes that are coming from Mexico to the US and that's going to be a big problem for the US consumer. It's going to be a big problem for the US economy too because, on one hand, it has a major impact on the price of tomatoes, one of every two tomatoes are coming from Mexico and if you take those tomatoes out of the marketplace, the prices will dramatically increase for the US consumer. The second thing for the US consumer is that it would take away a lot of the assortment of tomatoes that are right now in the store shelves because all the tomatoes that are vine-ripened and all the specialty tomatoes that are being consumed in the US are coming from Mexico.

Werman: But you're proposing raising the minimum price of the tomatoes from Mexico.

Ley: Correct.

Werman: So even if the agreement is renewed and everybody's happy, prices will still go up?

Ley: No, not necessarily because this is a minimum price, it's a floor price that is designed to prevent that, when the markets drop that the price of the tomatoes does not go to a level that could cause injury to the domestic industry.

Werman: Martin Ley represents a consortium of Mexican tomato growers who are now offering to raise their prices to avoid a trade war with the United States. Martin, thanks for speaking with us.

Ley: Thank you very much.