Mexico says tariffs will send tomato prices soaring in U.S.

Mexico's Economy Department said Tuesday that U.S. consumers could pay 38% to 70% more for tomatoes if the U.S. Commerce Department re-imposes anti-dumping duties on Mexican imports.

The U.S. Commerce Department announced earlier this year that it was ending a 2013 suspension agreement in which Mexican growers promised to sell at fair prices, and that it would reinstate the 1996 tariffs.

The so-called Tomato Suspension Agreement expires Tuesday, triggering duties of more than 17 percent on supplies crossing into the United States from Mexico. The decision was made in part to protect growers in Florida.

Prices for tomato imports jumped when the move was announced by the Commerce Department on Feb. 6, and will probably increase again to account for the duties, according to David Magana, a senior analyst at Rabobank International.

The tariffs could “impact prices in the U.S. in a matter of days,” Magana said in an email Monday.

The Mexico Economy Department said the country exports about $2 billion in tomatoes to the United States and supplies about half the tomatoes the U.S. consumes annually.

It said Tuesday that many small- and medium-sized Mexican tomato exporters won't be able to pay the deposits required to export.

The deposits required to comply with the 17.5% tariff would amount to about $350 million, money that many Mexican producers don't have.

U.S. tomato retail prices could climb by 40 percent to as much as 85 percent, with the bigger gains likely coming in the October-June period, when Florida production slows and Americans are more reliant on imports, according to a study by Arizona State University. The study was commissioned by the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.

On April 26, the average cost had fallen to about 98 cents a pound, the lowest since October, the most recent government data show.

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