Amid Talk Of Tariffs, What Happens To Companies That Straddle The Border? President Trump has called NAFTA a "catastrophe" and threatened to impose a border tax on Mexican imports. How does that impact produce companies with operations on both sides of the border?
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Amid Talk Of Tariffs, What Happens To Companies That Straddle The Border?

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Amid Talk Of Tariffs, What Happens To Companies That Straddle The Border?

Amid Talk Of Tariffs, What Happens To Companies That Straddle The Border?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/520874854/522091698" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Companies on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border are anxiously watching all this. For her series "Our Land," NPR's Melissa Block visited a business with operations in Arizona and Mexico to hear how more restrictive trade rules might affect them.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: We are heading south from Nogales, Ariz., to Nogales, Mexico.

JESSIE GUNN: So this is the wall, ladies and gents.

BLOCK: A hulking, rusted steel barrier snakes over the hillsides. It separates the two cities that share a name. We're driving with Jessie Gunn, spokeswoman for Wholesum Harvest. It's an organic, certified Fair Trade produce company. And we're heading to one of their farms about 30 miles south of the border.

GUN: These are all produce trucks, every single one of them.

BLOCK: We're passing dozens of 18-wheelers lined up at the border. They're all heading in to Arizona.

GUN: Agrofresa, CFI - very common transporter - Si Senor, Agrofresa again.

BLOCK: Nogales is the No. 1 port of entry for Mexican produce coming into the U.S. Here alone, more than 6 billion pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables were imported from Mexico last year. Tomatoes and watermelons topped the list. Going back the other way - lots of U.S. corn and soybeans.

So imagine if President Trump were to impose a tariff on Mexican goods. Jessie Gunn has no doubt that would ignite a full-on trade war, tax for tax.

GUN: It is the law of the universe - equal and opposite force.

BLOCK: We reach the tiny town of Los Janos, pull into Wholesum Harvest's organic farm, and we head to one of the steamy greenhouses to see what's growing - wow.

We are standing in a tomato jungle. We've got about two football fields worth of tomato plants. And what's incredible is that the tomato vines are twisting in a labyrinth 80-feet long, and then the tomato plants themselves shoot up about 10 feet into the air.

We move on to the packing plant, where cucumbers and tomatoes are being wrapped and boxed.

FRANCISCO LANDELL: We have the beefsteak tomato first, then the cucumber and then tomatoes on the vine.

BLOCK: Francisco Landell is the general manager of this farm. He's thought a lot about what it would mean if NAFTA were to disappear.

LANDELL: I think we will lose a lot of jobs, and I think it will be disastrous.

BLOCK: Landell wonders, is it all just tough talk from Donald Trump, or is he serious about pulling out of NAFTA and imposing a border tax?

LANDELL: We are concerned. Right now we're not making, like, any investment plans or any expansion plans.

BLOCK: Really?

LANDELL: Yeah because you don't know what will happen next year.

BLOCK: So everything's on hold.

LANDELL: Yes, everything's on hold.

BLOCK: By U.S. standards, the workers at Wholesum Harvest don't make much. Their pay is about $10 a day. But they also get free housing, free medical, dental and child care. And Landell says he hears this from some workers. With those benefits and that stability, they're not as tempted to illegally cross the border.

LANDELL: If they can make a decent living and put food on the table of their child, like, working in Mexico, they will stay in Mexico.

BLOCK: Stay in Mexico and, Landell hopes, propel the next generation to better things.

LANDELL: My dream is to go into a bank, ask for a loan for the company, and they say, like, Francisco, do you really don't recognize me? I used to live there by the farm. My dad used to pick tomatoes.

BLOCK: So Landell's dream is that tomato picker's kid will be the banker lending him money. We leave the farm and head north, back toward Arizona alongside a fleet of produce trucks. Mexico provides 70 percent of the fresh vegetables we import, more than 40 percent of our fresh fruit imports. Wholesum Harvest's Jessie Gunn says our American diet depends on them.

GUN: We expect to have access to mangos and passion fruit and tomatoes in the middle of February in arctic regions, you know? We want that.

BLOCK: Back at the Wholesum Harvest warehouse in Nogales, Ariz...

(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE IGNITION)

BLOCK: ...We watch 18-wheelers pull off into the night, ferrying tons of fresh Mexican produce to a supermarket near you. Melissa Block, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN SONG, "FANSHAWE")

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