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Tomato dispute could cut jobs and raise food cost

Mexican tomatoes are major industry here
Posted at 7:17 PM, May 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-30 22:22:10-04

NOGALES, Ariz. - An international food fight could cost jobs in Arizona and cost you more at the checkout.

A trade dispute involving Mexican tomatoes -- could cut into a multi-million dollar business.

Huge warehouses line the roads in Rio Rico and Nogales. They handle millions of pound of fruit and vegetables, grown in Mexico and brought there for distribution through the U.S. and Canada.

A fresh shipment of grapes is arriving at Chamberlain Distributing but the biggest business is Mexican tomatoes; or it has been.

Company President Jaime Chamberlain says, “I effectively stopped the importation of Mexican tomatoes. We haven't done that. We've always been importers of Mexican tomatoes. We've done it for 40, the 48 years we've been in existence at Chamberlain Distributing."

Chamberlain, and other produce distributors say a pricing agreement between the U.S. Department of Commerce and Mexico fell apart. Tomato growers in Florida complained that Mexican tomatoes were dumped--sold at prices too low to be fair to U.S. growers.

Mexican growers dispute that.

There was an agreement holding Mexican growers to minimum prices but now that it's been thrown out, Mexican growers have to pay a 17.5 percent tariff to sell in the U.S.---enough to drive some of them out of the U.S. Market.

Before the agreement ended, Arizona’s Congressional Delegation urged the Commerce Department to retain or enhance the agreement while members of Florida’s Congressional Delegation along with Congress members from other tomato growing states criticized the agreement.

A University of Arizona study says tomatoes from Mexico create a 4.8 Billion dollar industry across the U.S. And Canada that accounts for 33 thousand jobs.

Lance Jungmeyer, is President of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas. He says unless there's a new tomato agreement that lifts the tariffs, employment will drop and prices will rise.

"Because if we see a freeze, or hurricane, or crop failure in Florida, or any of the same things could happen in Mexico, the supply is already going to be so tight, the prices are gonna shoot through the roof and people are going to pay through the nose for tomatoes or just not buy them.”

While Arizona's produce importers hope for a settlement they still have to pay the tariffs or stay out of the tomato business.