Tomato pact called Obama’s political ploy to win Florida

Obama’s need for Florida outweighs family operations

The surprise decision by President Obama’s Department of Commerce to publish preliminary notice of intent to terminate the tomato suspension agreement is hasty, unwarranted and possibly motivated by political interests within the Obama Administration, according to the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

“Commerce delivered a slap in the face to the goodwill showed by the Mexican growers, who were scheduled to have a meeting with Commerce to renegotiate terms of the agreement,” said Lance Jungmeyer, President of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, a Nogales, Arizona, based association that represents U.S. based distributors of fresh fruits and vegetables.

“The Mexican grower groups had tried in vain for four months to schedule a face-to-face opportunity to renegotiate this agreement,” Jungmeyer said. “The fact that Commerce chose to terminate the agreement the day before this meeting only underscores the political pressure that Commerce was facing from the industry in Florida, a key swing state in the upcoming election.”

Mexican grower groups, the official signatories to the tomato suspension agreement, had received confirmation from the Department of Commerce that it had accepted a Sept. 28, 2012, meeting, where the growers intended to renegotiate the agreement. In fact, the growers were en route to Washington, DC, the day this news was delivered.

The FPAA says they are also dismayed by the lack of credence that Obama’s Department of Commerce gave to the nearly 350 letters it received from U.S. interests expressing support for continuation of the agreement. Groups supporting continuation of agreement were as diverse as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Food Marketing Institute, National Restaurant Association, National Pork Producers Council, American Dairy Federation, American Meat Institute and many more.

“Even Walmart, the biggest retailer in the world, supported keeping the tomato suspension agreement,” Jungmeyer said. “Their promise is everyday low prices for their shoppers, and they clearly see that terminating the agreement could raise tomato prices for consumers, at the same time as reducing selection and variety in one of the top categories in the whole produce department.”

FPAA is not a signatory to the agreement, nor are its members. However, terminating the agreement and initiating a new anti-dumping investigation, which Florida growers have said is their goal, has enormous implications for jobs generated by the U.S.-based companies that import Mexican tomatoes, and the ancillary businesses that support this industry.

“Tens of thousands of jobs in border states like Arizona, Texas and California rely on the tomato-importing industry,” said Alejandro Canelos, Chairman of the FPAA and Director of Apache Produce, a major employer in Nogales, Arizona, “These companies are third- and fourth-generation family operations that are the cornerstones of the local employment base.”

“Historically, Commerce has never made a decision this quickly when it was contested,” Jungmeyer said. “In this case, the decision to terminate the agreement was fiercely contested by numerous U.S. interests who said doing so would be bad for their business. Either Obama’s administration does not care about these businesses, or it is motivated by political concerns.”

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