Rubio, Fla. tomato growers seek to stifle competition
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.