Skip Hulett is vice president and general counsel for NatureSweet, a produce company headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, with facilities in Arizona and Mexico. Opinions are the author's own.
We are currently living in a season of inflation. Families are feeling an immovable squeeze on gas, food, childcare, and more. Amid these increased costs as well as food insecurity — a trade group called the Florida Tomato Exchange (FTE) — is attempting to impose an unnecessary new tariff of nearly 21% on all tomato imports that will increase prices, hurt our economy, and eliminate jobs. The impact of this so-called “Florida tomato tax” will be felt throughout the U.S.
Let me take a moment to explain what is really going on here. The Department of Commerce is being asked by the Florida trade group to terminate the Tomato Suspension Agreement, a trade agreement that, for nearly 30 years, has set a fair minimum price for the sale of imported tomatoes in the U.S. market. This trade agreement has helped ensure Americans have access to fresh tomatoes at a fair, stable price all year round.
What will happen if the FTE gets its way? Immediately, prices of tomatoes will be significantly increased. If this agreement is terminated by the Commerce Department, the “Florida tomato tax” will automatically take effect in 90 days. The FTE has a clear motive for blowing up an agreement that has been working well for almost 3 decades. They want to increase the bottom line for the Florida tomato growers they represent at the expense of Texas, Arizona, and consumers and retailers across the entire U.S.
As a Congressman in Arizona recently pointed out: “this new tomato tax would dramatically restrict the supply of tomatoes flowing into the country, therefore reducing competition on grocery store shelves and sending these multi-million dollar tomato growing conglomerates’ own profits soaring as a result.”
This is why well over 400 American small businesses across 32 states and a bipartisan group of over 30 members of the House and Senate submitted a joint letter asking the Department of Commerce to stand with American families. An unnecessary 21% “tomato tax” is particularly bad news for Texas and Arizona as well as U.S. consumers and retailers across the country. Recent studies from both Texas A&M and Arizona State University confirmed the impact this tariff will have on U.S. retailers, consumers, and jobs in Texas and Arizona.
U.S. consumers can expect prices to increase as much as 52% and a loss of over $7.5 billion in revenue to grocery retailers nationwide. In Texas and Arizona alone, economic activity could fall by almost $8 billion, translating to a loss of more than 54,000 jobs.
For decades, thanks to the trade agreement, consumers, companies, and communities have benefited from access to affordable, high-quality vine-ripened tomatoes imported directly to Texas, Arizona, and California from Mexico. These tomatoes allow folks across the U.S. to feed their families, grow their businesses, and strengthen their local communities.
American families simply cannot afford a new “tomato tax,” especially right now. The Tomato Suspension Agreement has been working for nearly three decades. American consumers should not have to pay more for tomatoes simply because a few self-interested millionaires want to increase their bottom line.