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U.S. Consumers Saved (Barely) From a Bleak Winter of Expensive Tomatoes

But the quality of the fruit could get worse

A farmer cradles two organic heirloom tomatoes on the vine in his hands. Getty Images/Thomas Barwick

A tomato catastrophe was partially averted this week as the U.S. and Mexico came to a new agreement on imports of summer’s most celebrated vine-ripened fruit, the Washington Post reports.

Mexican tomatoes, which comprise more than half of the U.S. tomato market, faced the threat of a 17.5 percent import tariff. As with many other self-inflicted trade disputes the country is currently ensnared in, the tomato issue came up in February when the U.S. Commerce Department declared that it was pulling out of an 1996 agreement with Mexico related to tomato imports. U.S. trade groups, mainly in Florida, claimed that the longtime agreement hurt the nation’s tomato farmers and allowed Mexico to unload cheaper tomatoes into the U.S. market.

Had the tariffs gone through, they would likely have been bad for consumers. One study predicted consumer price hikes of between 40 to 80 percent on the popular grocery item by October.

The U.S. had pressed for more stringent rules on imports during negotiations, including inspections for all imported tomatoes — something Mexico fought against. Under the new agreement, reached at the eleventh hour, 66 percent of Mexican tomatoes must receive inspections and farmers in Mexico are required to charge 40 percent more for organic tomatoes than their non-organic counterparts.

Of course, as any true tomato connoisseur knows, there’s a limited window from when those ripe beauties are plucked from their vine at peak freshness to when they turn into mealy mush. Experts say new inspection requirements being imposed on Mexican tomato imports will ultimately harm the market in the same way as a tariff might have, because the tomatoes will take longer to reach store shelves. Meanwhile, avocados are still really expensive.

U.S. and Mexico Settle Tomato Squabble to Stave Off Tariffs, Shortage [WaPo]
Food Fight: Trump Administration Levels Tariffs On Mexican Tomatoes [NPR]

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