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Business Observer Friday, Sep. 1, 2017 2 years ago

On the vine

State's tomato farmers battling cheaper imports.

Florida, even when it's not a presidential election season, remains in political play.

This time it comes from NAFTA, and the potential reworking and renegotiation (and possible termination) of the landmark trade bill, which went into effect in 1994. President Donald Trump, in tweets and statements, calls NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the “worst deal ever made.”

Some Florida tomato farmers might agree with Trump. On that point, at least.

Many tomato farmers statewide, according to a recent Bloomberg Businessweek Daily IQ report, are facing a two-pronged challenge: They are behind schedule due to above-average rainfall and are losing market share to cheaper Mexican produce.

“While annual U.S. tomato consumption has risen 61% since 1994, to 6.9 billion pounds, domestic production has fallen 11%, to 3.2 billion pounds, according to government data,” the Bloomberg story states. “Meanwhile, Mexican tomato imports have quadrupled, to 3.57 billion pounds, and strawberry imports have risen sixfold, to 568 million pounds. This has led to a rash of fruit and vegetable farm bankruptcies across Florida.”

In response, states Bloomberg, Florida growers have some demands for any potential reworking of NAFTA, with a list that includes “putting quotas on Mexican imports; aligning Mexico's food safety and environmental rules with U.S rules; raising wages for Mexican workers; and demanding the country cut its farm subsidies.”

Trump, knowing the importance of Florida, could back the state's farmers in this fight.

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