Tensions Raised Over Mexican Tomato Imports And A Potential Workers Strike

By Lauren Gilger, Murphy Woodhouse
Published: Thursday, May 30, 2019 - 1:02pm
Updated: Thursday, May 30, 2019 - 1:29pm

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LAUREN GILGER: In recent weeks KJZZ has reported on a bitter dispute over imported Mexican tomatoes as well as a massive threatened strike in Sonora, Mexico, the state to Arizona's south. To get the latest we've got Murphy Woodhouse on the line from our Fronteras Desk in Sonora's capital, Hermosillo. Good morning Murphy.

MURPHY WOODHOUSE: Good morning Lauren.

GILGER: So you've been doing a lot of reporting on the still unresolved dispute between Mexican tomato growers and importers and some domestic producers. There's a lot of moving parts here so let's just get up to speed and start there.

WOODHOUSE: Yes. So since I was last on the show a lot has happened. May 7th was the effective date for 17.5 percent duties for imported Mexican tomatoes and that was also the date that an anti-dumping investigation was restarted that was what the suspension agreement, the tomato suspension agreement, had suspended. Since then, the Mexican growers have sued the U.S. government seeking to block both the charging of those duties as well as the resumption of that investigation. And they also put forward a new tomato suspension agreement which they thought very highly of, but which the Florida growers quickly dismissed as quote "a step backwards." So negotiations don't seem to be going terribly well and there is now a lawsuit to boot.

GILGER: Wow OK. So what impacts if any can be seen in places like Nogales on the border where hundreds of millions of dollars worth of tomatoes cross every year?

WOODHOUSE: For sure, yeah. So I've been checking in regularly with a Guillermo Valencia and he's both a produce broker there as well as the chairman of the Port Authority and we've got some tape from him.

GUILLERMO VALENCIA: Well I think most people are getting adjusted to all the changes. From my standpoint we're now collecting, we've been collecting duties on shipments for a couple of weeks now and those duties are accruing between $1,500 and $2,000 per shipment.

WOODHOUSE: So if there is ultimately a deal or if commerce finds that there was no dumping, those duties could be paid back. But for the time being, the required bonding is pretty expensive and there have been fears of a shortened season and complications for planning the next season.

GILGER: Mexican growers and importers warned of possible declines in imports and price hikes for U.S. tomato consumers. Any evidence of that yet? Are we seeing prices go up here

WOODHOUSE: So there's not a lot of evidence for that yet. I've been keeping a pretty close eye on USDA data which monitors both import weights and prices. The available data for May so far shows pretty much the same import levels through Nogales and in along the whole U.S.-Mexico border though in Nogales it is it's down very slightly and no real clear jump in prices. So Valencia said he wasn't that surprised to hear that and said that the most major impacts would likely not be seen until the fall when commerce may make a final determination on duties.

GILGER: Last week you reported on a major Sonoran union threatening to go on strike this summer. Any developments on that front?

WOODHOUSE: Yes so just to quickly recap that was the the Sonoran branch of the Mexican Workers Confederation. They've got about 130,000 members in the state and they are at over 2000 businesses, worth pointing out that they they also have a presence at the major Ford plant here as well as a number of parts suppliers and other automotive businesses here in Hermosillo. That threatened strike obviously put the business community on edge and many describe it as a potentially illegal act. And I actually was told by an export leader yesterday that they're actually contemplating getting a court protection from a possible strike. But any the union itself says that the strike is is designed to improve federal medical and housing services here in Sonora. The head of the union said that he's meeting with the heads of the relevant federal agencies and is in fact meeting with the head of the essentially the Social Security Administration here in Mexico today. He said those have been fairly positive meetings. And I also asked him just right out, you know, how likely he thought the the threatened July 8 strike was. He said it was not likely but not impossible and it all depends on how negotiations go.

GILGER: Alright. That is Murphy Woodhouse joining us from our Fronteras Desk in Hermosillo, Sonora. Murphy thanks so much.

WOODHOUSE: I always enjoy it.

Imported Tomatoes
Murphy Woodhouse/KJZZ
Workers sort through tomatoes at a packing plant in southern Sonora, Mexico.

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