Two Florida Republicans--U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, who sits on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee--are leading the charge on Capitol Hill for the U.S. Commerce Department to end an agreement with Mexican tomato growers.
Rubio and Yoho rounded up more than 45 members of Congress to sign a letter to U.S. Commerce Sec. Wilbur Ross to end the agreement, insisting it “has allowed unfair competition to increasingly put U.S. tomato growers out of business” and “terminating the current agreement would restart a U.S. antidumping investigation on fresh tomatoes from Mexico while giving Commerce more leverage to try to secure a new suspension agreement that is both effective and enforceable.”
The Florida delegation offered strong support for Rubio and Yoho with Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, Democrat U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Stephanie Murphy, Donna Shalala, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson and Republican U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Mario Diaz-Balart, Neal Dunn, Matt Gaetz, Bill Posey, John Rutherford, Ross Spano, Greg Steube, Michael Waltz and Dan Webster signing on.
“Fairly traded imports can and do enrich Americans’ lives, but unfair trade practices can eviscerate the jobs and production that define dignified livelihoods and sustain our communities,” Rubio said on Friday. “The U.S. tomato industry has been the canary in the coal mine for domestic fruit and vegetable production over the last three decades. Immediately terminating the suspension agreement will reinvigorate the antidumping investigation on fresh tomatoes from Mexico and send the message that the U.S. will ensure vigilant enforcement of our existing trade laws and trade agreements.”
“The ineffective tomato suspension agreement between the Department of Commerce and Mexican tomato producers places U.S. tomato farmers at an unfair disadvantage,” Yoho said. “The current dumping of produce by the Mexican government harms our tomato farmers and goes against existing trade protections. It is only prudent that the Department of Commerce terminates the suspension agreement immediately and renegotiates more favorable terms for US producers. ”
“We write to request that you immediately terminate the current agreement suspending the outstanding antidumping investigation on fresh tomatoes from Mexico,” the members wrote.
“Congress has enacted U.S. laws targeting unfair trade practices for the specific purpose of ensuring that American farmers, workers, and companies are not injured as a result of systematic abuses by foreign producers. The record is clear in this case: the suspension agreements negotiated by past administrations have not worked, and Mexican tomato exporters have used successive suspension agreements as cover for their continued use of unfair trade practices to gain U.S. market share at the expense of the domestic tomato industry.
“Since the first tomato suspension agreement was enacted in 1996, hundreds of U.S. tomato growers across the country have been forced out of business. Mexico’s share of the U.S. tomato market has increased from 32 to 54 percent, while the share for U.S. growers has fallen from 65 to 40 percent. Since 2002, imports of Mexican tomatoes have skyrocketed 125 percent and U.S. production has declined 34 percent. Small family operations have been particularly hard hit, and the production losses reverberate beyond agriculture to deeply impact rural economies and land development patterns. The industry will continue to shrink if the status quo is maintained,” they added.
“We appreciate your team’s efforts to attempt to renegotiate improved terms. However, Mexican exporters have shown no interest in accepting a suspension agreement that would close the loopholes that permit them to continue dumping tomatoes and injuring American tomato growers and packers. Such suspension agreements have always been negotiated with the best intentions in mind. Yet, three different agreements have already been negotiated over the last 22 years because each previous agreement had failed to work as intended,” they wrote in conclusion. “Rather than renegotiate the terms of the current, ineffective agreement with Mexican exporters who have thus far demonstrated their unwillingness to deal in good faith, we instead request that you use your authority to immediately terminate the agreement suspending the outstanding antidumping investigation on fresh tomatoes from Mexico.”