Ru­bio, Fla. tomato grow­ers seek to sti­fle com­pe­ti­tion

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Opinion -

Sen. Marco Ru­bio ap­par­ently be­lieves that the jobs of tens of thou­sands of work­ers in pro­duce dis­tri­bu­tion in Ari­zona, Texas, and Cal­i­for­nia are worth­less. In­stead he ar­gues that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment should erect trade bar­ri­ers de­signed to trans­fer this eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity to po­lit­i­cal­ly­con­nected Florida tomato grow­ers who em­ploy largely for­eign mi­grant work­ers.

The com­pa­nies rep­re­sented by the Fresh Pro­duce As­so­ci­a­tion of the Amer­i­cas re­sent such hypocrisy and feel com­pelled to re­spond to it.

The Florida grow­ers have for decades been try­ing to stop com­pe­ti­tion from Mex­ico, which grows a vine-ripened tomato that is pre­ferred over Florida’s gassed-green va­ri­ety.

In re­sponse to Florida’s pro­tec­tion­ist de­mands 22 years ago, the U.S. Com­merce De­part­ment set up a trade agree­ment that raises tomato prices in the U.S. mar­ket. For over a year, how­ever, the Florida tomato pack­ers have been plan­ning a new strat­egy — to re­duce com­pe­ti­tion from in­de­pen­dent U.S. distrib­u­tors while at the same time cor­ner­ing the im­port and dis­tri­bu­tion of the very Mex­i­can to­ma­toes they com­plain about. They have ac­quired farms and part­ners in Mex­ico and dis­tri­bu­tion oper­a­tions across the United States. They repack Mex­i­can to­ma­toes un­der their own brands.

Last month, they con­vinced the Com­merce De­part­ment to kill the long-stand­ing trade agree­ment and re­place it with pro­hib­i­tive tar­iffs. Their goal is to ei­ther cut off all com­pe­ti­tion or force the Mex­i­can grow­ers into rene­go­ti­at­ing the agree­ment and ac­cept­ing con­ces­sions that will ef­fec­tively pre­vent any­one other than these few Florida com­pa­nies from dis­tribut­ing Mex­i­can to­ma­toes in the United States. This will dev­as­tate this as­so­ci­a­tion’s pro­duce dis­tri­bu­tion jobs, as well as tens of thou­sands more across the coun­try.

Ru­bio is ask­ing the Com­merce De­part­ment to hand these Florida com­pa­nies a monopoly, which will in­crease prices and re­duce fresh tomato va­ri­ety for U.S. con­sumers.

In this con­text, Ru­bio’s state­ment to the me­dia is truly shock­ing in its hypocrisy. He started off by say­ing “there is no dig­nity for Amer­i­can work­ers in buy­ing cheaper, im­ported goods with­out do­mes­tic pro­duc­tion sup­port­ing jobs, pay­checks, and liveli­hoods.” He went on to com­plain how trade “con­tin­ues to en­rich Mex­i­can pro­duc­ers and do­mes­tic im­porters and distrib­u­tors at the ex­pense of do­mes­tic pro­duc­ers.”

What is shock­ing about Ru­bio say­ing this, is the “do­mes­tic im­porters and distrib­u­tors” he is re­fer­ring to in­clude the very Florida com­pa­nies that put him up to this me­dia state­ment. These com­pa­nies are highly in­vested in Mex­i­can tomato pro­duc­tion, im­por­ta­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion.

Ru­bio’s at­tacks on the Amer­i­can mid­dle class are also di­vorced from the eco­nomic re­al­i­ties faced by those con­sumers. He ref­er­enced “Wash­ing­ton’s will­ing­ness to sac­ri­fice en­tire do­mes­tic in­dus­tries and lo­cal pro­duc­tion just to shave pen­nies off the costs that Amer­i­can con­sumers might pay.” But what if con­sumers pay more? Is Ru­bio will­ing to gam­ble with the take­home pay of all Amer­i­cans?

It is truly as­ton­ish­ing for Ru­bio to at­tack work­ers, busi­nesses and con­sumers across the whole United States in or­der to ad­vance a scheme to cre­ate a monopoly for a few com­pa­nies head­quar­tered in his state. What is Amer­i­can about cre­at­ing a monopoly for a few Florida-based tomato distrib­u­tors, to harm other Amer­i­can tomato sell­ers?

Lance Jung­meyer is Pres­i­dent of the No­gales, Ari­zona-based Fresh Pro­duce As­so­ci­a­tion of the Amer­i­cas, which since 1944 has ad­vo­cated for U.S. distrib­u­tors of fruits and veg­eta­bles.

By Lance Jung­meyer

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.