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$5 A Pound? Tomato Price Threat Seen As Tactic In Trade Dispute With Mexico


Will stopping Mexican tomatoes at the border raise tomato prices prohibitively for American consumers?

An importers group predicted recently that if the 1996 tomato agreement with Mexico is terminated, tomatoes could rise to $5 a pound in American supermarkets. Florida growers now say that's a scare tactic by interest groups who favor Mexican imports. "Under no circumstances will this be true," said Edward Beckman, president of Certified Greenhouse Farmers.

Growers responsible for Florida's $350 million-dollar-a-year tomato industry continue to struggle with the flood of imports from Mexico, which they say has been dumping its product in the  U. S. at below-production-cost prices. But spokespeople have been telling the Naples Daily News there's room for fair competition and no need to frighten consumers:

Gene McAvoy, a Southwest Florida-based multi-county vegetable agent with the University of Florida/IFAS, said the report just creates fear and confusion for consumers. "I don't think anybody wants them (Mexican growers) to withdraw," McAvoy said. Instead, he said, Florida growers want Mexican growers to sell their tomatoes at a fair price were everyone can make a fair living, including the Florida farmers. Florida produces much of the nation's winter tomatoes. Mexico is the largest competition for vegetable growers in the United States.

But state growers say if the tomato agreement with Mexico is renewed, it must come with an enforceable "reference price" that will create honest competition for growers from both nations.