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MCALLEN, RGV – Less than a week after Rio Grande Guardian columnist Adrian Gonzalez wrote about tomatoes becoming more expensive in the U.S., a large public-private coalition led by the Border Trade Alliance has weighed in on the subject.

The coalition comprises nearly 80 businesses, industry associations, and local and county governments. The group is concerned about U.S. Department of Commerce plans to withdraw from a 2013 Tomato Suspension Agreement on fresh tomatoes.

“Terminating the agreement risks retaliation to our domestic agriculture industry and creates economic uncertainty throughout the supply chain,” the coalition stated.

Adrian Gonzalez

In a guest column, Gonzalez, a customs broker wrote about the U.S. Department of Commerce’s plans to withdraw from a 2013 Tomato Suspension Agreement on fresh tomatoes.

Gonzalez pointed out that nearly one in every two tomatoes consumed in the United States is grown in Mexico. The majority of these are grown in the state of Sinaloa and cross through the Pharr port of entry in the Rio Grande Valley. By value, this trade was worth $532 million in 2017.

The new coalition has voiced strong concerns over the Department of Commerce’s actions. Led by the Border Trade Alliance (BTA), the coalition sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on Wednesday in response to last month’s announcement by the Commerce Department that the U.S. would exit the agreement by May 7, at which point importers begin facing hundreds of millions of dollars in duties.

“This letter sends the message loud and clear that the business community and affected local governments believe that withdrawing from the agreement that has governed cross-border tomato trade since 2013 risks tremendous harm to the U.S. economy,” BTA Chair Paola Avila said.

Paola Avila

The letter to Ross references a recent University of Arizona study that finds that tomato imports are responsible for more than 30,000 U.S. jobs and nearly $3 billion in U.S. GDP.

“There are too many jobs and too much economic activity connected to the tomato trade to sacrifice them for certain regional agricultural interests’ attempts to tilt the rules of trade in their favor,” BTA President Britton Clarke said. “Withdrawing from the Tomato Suspension Agreement could not only lead to retaliation from one of our leading trade partners, but could also complicate ongoing efforts to adopt the USMCA.”

BTA was formed in 1986. It serves as a grassroots, non-profit organization that provides a forum for discussion and advocacy on issues pertaining to border development and quality of life and trade in the Americas. A network of public and private sector representatives from the United States, Mexico and Canada, BTA’s core values include a commitment to improving the quality of life of border communities through trade and commerce. The BTA is online at thebta.org and @borderalliance.

Here is the letter the nearly 80 businesses, industry associations, and local and county governments wrote to the Department of Commerce:

March 6, 2019

Hon. Wilbur Ross

Secretary of Commerce

U.S. Department of Commerce

1401 Constitution Ave NW

Washington, D.C. 20230

Dear Secretary Ross:

The undersigned members of the American trade community write to you today regarding our strong concerns over efforts from certain regional interests to curb the import of fresh tomatoes from Mexico. Erecting new barriers to trade in fruits and vegetables risks negatively affecting American consumers, the United States agriculture industry, and could jeopardize our country’s trading relationship with one of the U.S.’ leading export destinations, and potentially impact the USMCA ratification process.

Maintaining a healthy bilateral trade relationship with Mexico is essential to the continued growth of the American economy, while ensuring consumer access to affordable fresh produce, especially in cold-weather months. A recent study finds that tomato imports alone are responsible for over 30,000 U.S. jobs and support a supply chain that generates nearly $3 billion in U.S. GDP.

The U.S. is Mexico’s top agricultural trade partner, exporting $18 billion worth of products, which represents about 70 percent of Mexico’s agri-food imports. The agriculture sector is critical to the overall two-way goods and services trade between our two countries that supports an estimated five million U.S. jobs.

It is for these reasons that we urge the Department of Commerce to continue renegotiation for a Tomato Suspension Agreement that addresses U.S. grower concerns within U.S. trade law. Terminating the agreement risks retaliation to our domestic agriculture industry and creates economic uncertainty throughout the supply chain.

We encourage the Administration to continue to work toward crafting agricultural trade policy that seeks to strengthen the industry nationally, not that is calibrated around regional or seasonal interests. Therefore, we respectfully request that the Administration maintain the Tomato Suspension Agreement.

We appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to your response.

Respectfully,

1st Bank Yuma

Agri Packing Distributors, Inc.

Agri Packing Supply, Inc

Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry

Associate Brokerage Co.

Atlas International Custom House Broker, Inc.

Bayer Crop Science

Border Pacific Railroad

Border Trade Alliance

Borderplex Alliance

Bright Group, LLC

Cameron County, Texas

Capin Vyborny, LLC

Chamberlain Distributing Inc.

Ciruli Brothers

CMMV LLC

Del Campo Supreme

Divine Flavor

Eagle Eye Produce

Farmer’s Best International, LLC

Flavor King Farms

Frank’s Distributing of Produce

Fresh Farms

Fresh International

Fresh Produce Association of the Americas

G. Mendez & Company, Inc.

The Giumarra Companies

GR Fresh

Greater Nogales Santa Cruz County Port Authority

Grower Alliance

HM Distributors, Inc.

iDeal HarBest

IFCO Systems

International Agricultural Marketing Management, LLC

International Bank of Commerce

IPR Fresh

J.O. Alvarez, Inc.

K&K International Logistics

Kaliroy Fresh, LLC

Kingdom Fresh Farms

Klondike Cold Storage, Inc.

Lee Jones

Malena Produce, Inc.

Marengo Foods LLC

MAS Melons & Grapes

Masterstouch

The City of McAllen, Texas

Mayer, Martinez & Associates

Nogales Santa Cruz County Economic Development Foundation

Pacific Brokerage

Pack Right LLC

Pandol Bros.

Peppers Plus Inc.

Port of Brownsville

Produce House

Red Sun Farms

R.L. Jones Customhouse Brokers

R.L. Jones of Texas

Rio Grande Valley Partnership

S&B Infrastructure, Ltd.

San Diego-Tijuana Smart Border Coalition

The City of San Luis, Arizona

Shannon Brokerage

Sierra seed Company

Starr-Camargo Bridge Co.

Strauns Customhouse Brokers

Suarez Brokerage Company, Inc.

SunFed

The Sykes Company

Tepeyac Produce, Inc.

Texas International Produce Association

Tricar Sales, Inc

Triple H Produce

Valencia International Inc.

Vandervoet & Associates

Wholesum Family Farms, Inc.

Wilson Produce

Zira Food Safety

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above news story shows potatoes from Roma Tomatoes.

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