Tomato suspension agreement debate continues

02/25/2013 09:53:00 AM
Mike Hornick

“It’s better than tariffs or a trade war, but we’re worried that it’s going to lock a lot of Mexican tomatoes out of the market,” Jungmeyer said. “About $1 billion in tomatoes came through Nogales in 2011. If you saw even a 10% or 20% decline, that’s a lot of money.”

Across the border, Asociacion Mexicana de Horticulture Protegida A.C. (AMHPAC) found signs of progress in the commerce plan.

“It would include all Mexican exporters rather than 85% as in the last agreement, and we pursued that,” said Eric Viramontes, AMHPAC’s departing chief executive officer.

“The Mexican government will have a big role in promoting this, and I think it will make for a stronger industry.

“The agreement is about maintaining order. It’s not about filling anybody’s pocket. Best of all, it avoided a big dispute between our countries,” Viramontes said.

 

Need to boost greenhouses

Any relief U.S. growers gain from the agreement won’t end the need for increased investment in greenhouse technologies, Viramontes said.

“In some parts of the U.S., that’s not happening, and that’s what creates issues in maintaining profits,” he said.

Fried DeSchouwer, president of Vero Beach, Fla.-based Greenhouse Produce Co. LLC, agreed.

“Florida, for one, has made no significant changes in the last 10 years on production capacity,” he said. “They have not invested. They keep on doing what they’ve been doing.”

Greenhouse Produce Co. sources protected agriculture tomatoes, many out of central Mexico.

As DeSchouwer sees it, Mexico has the same advantage over Florida that Cuba did in the past when it was a tomato production hub — warmer weather and lower costs.

“American growers are trying to separate different production types and somehow eliminate competition from a lower-technology greenhouse,” he said.

“Mexico doesn’t need as many inputs to grow consistent, quality product.”

“Americans don’t want to accept that,” DeSchouwer said, shortly before the draft agreement was reached.

“They feel it’s not a level playing field. OK. But then you need to adjust your cost of production. Any trade limitation creating an unfair advantage for domestic producers will, in the long run, catch up with them, full stop.”

“On the low end or the high end of markets, the consumer will get the short end of the stick,” Mazzanti said.


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