Trump Administration Orders Tariffs On Tomatoes Imported From Mexico : The Salt Under pressure from Florida lawmakers, the Trump administration is taking steps to protect domestic tomato growers from Mexican competition.
NPR logo

Food Fight: Trump Administration Levels Tariffs On Mexican Tomatoes

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/721172201/721172224" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Food Fight: Trump Administration Levels Tariffs On Mexican Tomatoes

Food Fight: Trump Administration Levels Tariffs On Mexican Tomatoes

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/721172201/721172224" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

And while all this is happening with China, there's another trade skirmish on the horizon. It's going to play out in the supermarket produce aisle. The Trump administration is preparing to level tariffs on fresh tomatoes imported from Mexico. The move comes in response to a growing outcry from Florida tomato growers. They've got a lot of political leverage, as NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: If you pick up a ripe red tomato in the grocery store this time of year, chances are good it was grown south of the border.

MICHAEL SCHADLER: Depending on where you are in the country, especially at the retail level, you're going to see mostly Mexican tomatoes at this time of year.

HORSLEY: That's Michael Schadler, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange. Florida used to dominate the American market for tomatoes sold in the winter and spring. But over the last two decades, Florida growers have been losing ground to Mexico. That country now grows more than half the fresh tomatoes sold in the United States. Mexican imports have more than doubled since 2002. Tony DiMare's family used to farm 5,000 acres of winter tomatoes near Homestead, Fla. Today, that shrunk by about 90%.

TONY DIMARE: To me, the tomato industry is a model child of what has happened with NAFTA and free trade.

HORSLEY: Florida growers have long complained that Mexico is unfairly subsidizing its tomato crop and otherwise taking advantage of the United States with the tacit approval of the U.S. government. Now the Trump administration is changing course. The administration served notice that it's about to add a tariff on Mexican tomatoes of nearly 18%, welcome news to Schadler and the Florida growers he represents.

SCHADLER: This is the day we've been waiting for for a while.

HORSLEY: Florida Congressman Ted Yoho and colleagues, including Senator Marco Rubio, lobbied for the change. Yoho complains Mexico has been selling its tomatoes at artificially low prices.

TED YOHO: Our producers can't get a box, a wrapper and the seeds in the ground for what Mexico is selling it for.

HORSLEY: But Mexican growers and the companies that import their fruit insist price is not the biggest factor here. Lance Jungmeyer, who heads an association of produce importers in Nogales, Ariz., says unlike Florida tomatoes that are mostly picked green, Mexican tomatoes are typically allowed to ripen on the vine. Jungmeyer argues consumers are simply voting with their taste buds.

LANCE JUNGMEYER: Tomatoes that we see today have very good flavor. They have nice acidity. They pop when you bite into them. Back in the day, before the innovations, we had a lot of pink and mealy tomatoes that, frankly, didn't keep consumers coming back.

HORSLEY: Jungmeyer argues, rather than update their farming procedures, Florida growers have sought protectionist measures from the government. He warns the new import duties will raise prices and limit consumer choice.

JUNGMEYER: Duties are harmful to the American consumers. It's a tax on consumers, and that's the wrong way to deal with fruits and vegetables.

HORSLEY: Nevertheless, the Trump administration has embraced tariffs on a wide variety of imports, from washing machines to solar panels. Now that Mexican tomatoes are being added to that list, Florida growers say they feel like they have an ally in the White House. Still, Congressman Ted Yoho says the administration might not have acted without pressure from Florida lawmakers. And here, Yoho had a bargaining chip because Trump needs all the congressional support he can get to ratify his new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada.

YOHO: We voiced our opinion that if we don't get the seasonally growing vegetables straightened out, I can't support the USMCA.

HORSLEY: In other words, the price of a new North American Free Trade Agreement may be tariffs on Mexican tomatoes. Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.