Tomatoes are one of the biggest-selling fruits in the United States, even if sometimes they’re categorized as vegetables (which we all know they’re not).
But many Americans may not know that more than 70 percent of all tomatoes sold in the US actually come from Mexico. Part of that reason is an obscure trade law which, on May 7th, was terminated by the Department of Commerce. Get ready for tomato wars. Not the cartoon kind.
Since 1996, the US and Mexico have observed an agreement called the Tomato Suspension Agreement. That law was, says New Food Economy, designed to prevent heavily subsidized Mexican farmers from “dumping,” or selling very cheaply, tomatoes in the United States. But representatives of the Florida tomato industry has consistently lobbied to remove that agreement and place taxes on Mexican tomatoes, claiming that the agreement has not worked and that Mexican growers are able to supply tomatoes at prices American farmers can’t compete with.
On May 7th, the Department of Commerce announced that the agreement would be terminated, possibly but not necessarily to be replaced by some other deal. In the meantime, Mexican tomatoes will come with a 17.5 percent tariff—enough to price out all but the largest and most thrifty Mexican farmers.
There are all sorts of potential outcomes of this move. Mexican growers may have to stop growing tomatoes and shift to other crops. Huge industries—packing, shipping, gassing, processing—rely on the flow of Mexican tomatoes, and not just in Mexico. Thousands of jobs are potentially at stake here.
For certain growers, like Florida, this could be a boon; Florida’s tomatoes are most sold in the winter, when they’re only competing with other warm-weather growers, like those in Mexico. The fact that we’re coming up on summer now means that tomato prices probably won’t noticeably change for awhile; in the next few months, the entire country goes tomato-crazy, with tomatoes grown and sold from Minnesota to New York to Ohio.
But come winter, if there’s no new law on the books and Mexican farmers still have to cope with a 17.5 percent tariff, tomato prices will dramatically rise. In the meantime, grow your own.