Tomato case against Commerce Dept. will take months

07/05/2013 02:40:00 PM
Tom Karst

See related content: Mexican tomato production expected to rise 5%

TomatoThe Florida Tomato Exchange’s lawsuit against the Department of Commerce seeking to end the tomato suspension agreement between the U.S. and Mexico will take months to be resolved.

The April 19 lawsuit, claims that the Department of Commerce failed to meet the requirements of law when it negotiated the fourth suspension agreement since 1996 with Mexican tomato growers. The lawsuit also charges that the Department of Commerce did not investigate current costs of production in Mexico and that evidence doesn’t support the new reference prices agreed to in the suspension agreement.

Hearings and oral arguments will take perhaps until the end of the year to be completed, said Terence Stewart, the Washington, D.C.-based legal counsel to the Florida Tomato Exchange.

Briefing schedules haven’t been put together by the parties and that process alone could take several months, he said.

“You can put this on the back burner ‘til the end of the year,” Stewart said June 5.

The Department of Commerce revised the suspension agreement prices with Mexican tomato growers, mandating a reference price of 31 cents per pound in the winter for open field and adapted environment tomatoes, with the summer reference price of 24.58 cents. Controlled environment tomatoes from Mexico have a reference price of 41 cents per pound in the winter and 32.51 cents per pound in the summer.

The agreement’s minimum prices are up substantially compared with the previous agreement, in some cases more than double the current floor price for certain products.

U.S. growers had been unhappy with the previous reference prices agreement for Mexican tomatoes and in 2012 requested the end of a suspension agreement that set those prices since 1996, stopping an anti-dumping investigation. Some importers have also expressed concern about the high price levels of the new suspension agreement, expressing concern that Mexico could lose market share as a result of the higher minimum prices.

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