Let’s take a moment to ponder tomatoes, apples and U.S. electoral swing states. They are related. And Mexico plays a role.
We’ll start with tomatoes: In June, a group of Florida tomato growers appealed to the Obama administration saying they’d been subject to unfair trade practices by Mexican tomato exporters. They asked for the end of a pact that had governed the price of Mexican vine-ripened tomatoes since 1996.
Tomatoes are big business. The U.S. imported well over $1 billion worth of tomatoes last year from Mexico, the main food import from South of the Border. They are also big business in Florida.
And of course, Florida is a swing state in this election year. So a trade war may be in the offing as President Obama looks to secure key Florida votes. The Commerce Department is accepting comments on what it should do until Sept. 4.
Business is weighing in. On the pro-import said is the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas.
“Special interest groups are using election-year politics to try to start a trade war that will disrupt a 16-year track record of success for bringing fair prices to consumers and healthy variety to family dinner tables,” the group’s president, Lance Jungmeyer, said in a statement a week ago.
Florida’s commissioner of agriculture, Adam Putnam, is backing Florida’s growers. He sent a letter early last month demanding relief for growers from his state.
“Already suffering from weak demand in a difficult economy, Florida’s tomato growers cannot compete in a market flooded by unprecedented imports of tomatoes from Mexico at prices well below the cost of production,” Putnam wrote.
So where do apples fit in? Well, Mexico is a major importer of apples from Washington State. But Washington is not a swing state in this election. It is solidly democratic. If the Obama administration favors the Florida tomato growers, Mexico may retaliate against apple growers from Washington.
Here’s what a columnist for something called The Wenatchee World wrote:
“Trade war talk should scare us. Trade is a two-way street. Washington apples go in while tomatoes go out. Tomatoes are Mexico’s largest agricultural export, and Mexico is the largest export market for Washington apples. When Mexico is upset, apples can get nailed.”
Also from the department of unintended consequences, this Spanish-language story notes that 350,000 Mexicans are employed in the tomato industry, many of them in Sinaloa state. If they lose their jobs, where will they head? North?