Cheeseburger, Hold the Tomato
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“I like mine with lettuce and… ?” Will your cheeseburger have to do without a tomato this winter? Due to the longer growing seasons there, U.S. consumers depend on Mexico and Florida for a reliable source of winter tomatoes. But if Florida growers have their way, they’d like to squeeze out the competition – ketchup, anyone?
In 1996, U.S. tomato growers filed an antidumping petition in an attempt to block competition from Mexico. That same year, U.S. and Mexican growers signed a “suspension agreement” that put the anti-dumping investigation on hold. The terms of the suspension agreement were that the Commerce Department would thereafter set a reference price for fresh tomatoes imported from Mexico. Now, one might expect the Mexican growers to chafe under an arrangement that makes their product less competitive by dictating a minimum price. But in fact it was the U.S. growers who have now requested the termination of the case and by extension the suspension agreement.
In a preliminary determination, the Commerce Department has signaled that it agrees. Unfortunately, it appears that election year politics had a lot to do with the unusually speedy determination from Commerce, which under normal circumstances might have taken as much as nine months to arrive at a decision. The conventional wisdom is that the Florida growers, freed from the terms of the suspension agreement (which would have expired at the end of the year, anyway), will now file a new anti-dumping petition. The cynical view is that this move is intended to give them leverage in any re-negotiation of the expiring agreement.
But considering that the Commerce Department has in effect set the price of Mexican tomatoes for the last 16 years, the notion of an anti-dumping duty is ludicrous. If this investigation is indeed terminated, it should be terminated for good, so that U.S. consumers can enjoy their choice of tomatoes all year long.
As for my cheeseburger? “I like mine with lettuce and tomato, Heinz 57, and French-fried potatoes.” Oh, and nobody better mess with my cold draft beer.