Florida and Mexico are having a food fight over tomatoes and other fresh produce. Will farmers in California and Washington get caught in the crossfire? That’s one question swirling around the final negotiations between the Trump administration and Mexico on a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement.

Growers of tomatoes, strawberries and peppers in Florida and the Southeast say they’ve been hammered by cheap imports of these crops from Mexico, particularly during winter months. They’ve lobbied the Trump administration to make it easier for them to bring “anti-dumping” and “countervailing duty” cases against Mexico.

But growers on the West Coast fear such a provision would prompt Mexico to retaliate, making it harder for them to sell south of the border. Mexico is the United States’ No. 1 market for apples, pears and sweet cherries. Washington state is the nation’s No. 1 producer of all three of these fruits. California is also a major producer and the nation’s No. 1 cultivator of tomatoes.

Complicating the issue are operations that West Coast growers have set up in Mexico to keep growing produce during winter months.

“There’s not a consensus view among growers in the U.S. on this issue,” said Michael Camunez, CEO of Monarch Global Strategies and a former assistant Commerce secretary.

U.S. and Mexican negotiators are scrambling this month to strike a NAFTA deal so they can bring Canada on board and meet deadlines to give Congress a required 90 days’ notice on any negotiated agreement. But Camunez says there are still “a number of issues that could cause this agreement to go sideways,” including claims of unfair trading in farm goods.

Following talks in Washington earlier this month, both U.S. and Mexican negotiators said they made progress in resolving disagreements over automobile tariffs and other issues. But when asked about the provision sought by Florida and Georgia growers, Gregg Doud, the U.S. chief agriculture negotiator, declined to comment, stating the negotiations are ongoing.

Overall, U.S. agriculture has benefited from NAFTA. From 1992 to 2016, U.S. agriculture exports to Canada and Mexico grew from $8.7 billion to $38 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service. But in Florida, farmland devoted to tomatoes dropped from 45,200 acres in 2005 to 32,000 a decade later. Mexico now tops Florida in U.S. market share of strawberries, peppers and tomatoes, a sea change from the 1990s.

 

Leavenworth writes for McClatchy.