Suspension agreement is again up for discussion

NAVOLATO, SINALOA, MEXICO — The tomato suspension agreement, a trade agreement established between the U.S. Department of Commerce and Mexico in 1996, expires on March 3, 2018.

Culiacan tomato grower Rosario (Tolin) Beltran is president of Mexico’s Sistema Producto Tomate Nacional, which is the Tomato National Product System.  Mario-and-Beltran Mario Robles and Rosario (Tolin) Beltran.

In a March interview in Beltran’s Navolato office, he told The Produce News that the suspension agreement has helped U.S. consumers, as well as growers in Mexico and the United States.

Beltran said the Mexican tomato industry is “ready to work” with the U.S. Department of Commerce to rework the agreement, if necessary.

Beltran, who owns and operates Agricola BelHer, a very large greenhouse tomato grower and packer, said the suspension agreement has been good for his business and that of other Mexican growers "because we have a floor price.”    

Beltran’s friend and close colleague Mario Robles works in the nearby headquarters in Culiacan as manager of CIDH — the Vegetable Commission for Defense, Research & Development. Robles said the suspension agreement “has been good for the industry as a whole. It has increased exports and the value of the exports. It has also provided employment.”

Beltran added, “It has help our quality and technology be better for tomatoes. Mostly, the industry has been more competitive with a reference price. Sometimes with a big volume, we have left produce in Mexico, and so we only ship quality.”

Beltran elaborated, “What happens” with a floor price in exporting to the U.S. “is that you have three options. You can ship to Canada, you ship to the domestic market or you give tomatoes to the cows.”

“When the market is good you sell your ones and twos," Robles noted. "It has forced us to sell our best quality.”

Because of low prices throughout this growing year, Beltran said, “We sold only number ones all season and we threw away all our seconds. For me it has been good. I had no open-field tomatoes this season for the first time.” Expanded greenhouse production boosted Agricola BelHer’s “quality, competitiveness and efficiency.”

Beltran acknowledged “you get different opinions,” but he said Mexico is the second-largest importer of U.S. foods, “so our commerce is both ways. The ones who win are the consumers.”

Regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement, Robles said that in NAFTA’s 23 years, it is the U.S. that had a positive trade balance with Mexico.  But in 2014-16, it was a positive balance for Mexico.

“We have a tremendous market between both counties,” Beltran said. “It is very even” overall.

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