Today's quote is from a charming NPR report on tomatoes by
that was published back in July of 2009. In fact, our thought had been to write something today about the other kind of apples, with varieties from Gala to Granny Smith, in a word, the real ones. That's not to say that tomatoes are not real. They are. And there is a real enough connection these days between the two, as the U.S. growers of each stake out different positions in the NAFTA negotiations.
We'll save our discussion of apples until tomorrow. Today it's tomatoes, starting with a little more from that delicious piece by Diane Roberts. In modern French, the word for tomato is
, but the French used to call tomatoes
apples of love. Discussing the history of these red goddesses of the kitchen, Ms. Roberts wrote:
"When the Spanish brought tomatoes to Europe in the 16th century, people didn't know what to make of them: They might be poisonous. On the other hand, they might be some kind of aphrodisiac like the mandrake root."
Then she brought her readers up to date:
"Here in North Florida, tomato worship is our warm-weather religion. Fields and farmers markets are piled high with tomatoes in the colors from amethyst to chartreuse, smelling of heaven; we eat them raw with a little rice vinegar, cooked in a tart or simmered in a sauce."
All very idyllic. And, we wouldn't challenge a word of it - not visually, not aesthetically, and certainly not gastronomically.
Tomatoes and Trade Policy.
When it comes to trade policy, however, there is an old controversy that may or may not ever be resolved, but it will certainly become more prominent in the months ahead. It is not just about tomatoes. Northwest berry growers have similar issues, but the Florida tomato growers are at the top of the vine, so to speak, when it comes to trade in perishable products.
Fearing increased competition from Mexico, they were opposed to NAFTA when it was being debated in Congress back in 1993, and they have not been happy with developments under the agreement since it went into effect in January 1994. An August article on the
Stewart and Stewart
website sets out the problems as American tomato producers and others see them. The firm also has something to say about how those problems might be solved. Some illustrative passages follow.
. Stewart and Stewart begin their explanation of the problem this way:
"Producers of perishables and seasonal agricultural products are particularly susceptible to damage from trade surges and various forms of unfair trade practices. If their products are forced to compete with dumped or subsidized product, or if import surges saturate the market either before or during a marketing season, domestic producers are unable to store their product and wait until prices rise to normal levels.
"Likewise, only a brief window - at times just days - exists in which to sell perishable products."
And those aren't the only problems. As the Stewart and Stewart article also points out, U.S. tomato growers often cannot even get the benefit of that famous downward sloping demand curve. They offered this explanation and example:
"The situation of producers of perishable and cyclical products is worsened as a concentrated retail structure in the United States and internal company operating procedures typically result in retailers not changing prices of perishable and cyclical prices at retail to reflect falling prices ... ."
"In January 1996, prices of fresh tomatoes plummeted to as little as $0.04 per pound (from prices that more typically range from $0.25 to 0.40 per pound) at the farm level in the United States due to large volumes of imports from Mexico, while retail prices remained in the $1.00 to $1.80 per pound range."
The NAFTA Renegotiation. The effort to come to agreement on a revised North American Free Trade Agreement would seem to be moving at a brisk pace. Three of the seven anticipated negotiating rounds have been completed, and the next one, the Fourth Round, is slated to be held next week (October 11-15 in Washington). We don't know whether the negotiators have formally taken up the issue of perishable products or not, but it is a hot topic among the stakeholders.
More to the point, it is on the list of negotiating objectives that USTR published in July. It comes under the heading of Trade Remedies. The relevant sentence reads:
"Seek a separate domestic industry provision for perishable and seasonal products in AD/CVD [antidumping and countervailing duty] proceedings."
Further, as those who favor such a provision are quick to point out, this particular U.S. negotiating objective flows directly from the law. That point was made recently by Florida's two senators, Senator
(D) and Senator
(R). In a letter to Ambassador Lighthizer of August 31, they wrote:
"[W]e urge you to formally propose a NAFTA fix that would allow regional growers to use seasonal data for antidumping and countervailing duty (AD/CVD) cases."
Pointing to the relevant law, they argued that:
"[A]ny agreement expecting fast track authority in Congress needs to meet the negotiating objectives set out in the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Accountability Act of 2015 (P.L. 114-26), including 'eliminating practices that adversely affect trade in perishable or cyclical products, while improving import relief mechanisms to recognize the unique characteristics of perishable and cyclical agriculture.'
"Failure to meet these objectives would clearly not meet the standards Congress has set for trade agreements and would threaten the viability of a renegotiated NAFTA."