The Obama administration has suspended a trade agreement with Mexico over tomatoes–a favorable outcome for farmers in the battleground state of Florida, and something key Democrats had pushed for this summer.
NBC's Michael Isikoff discussed the Democratic effort Monday during a "Daily Rundown" segment:
MICHAEL ISIKOFF: It doesn’t come as a shock, but this is a fascinating look about how to use the levers of power of incumbency to help yourself in an election season. In June, as you mentioned, the Florida tomato growers filed this petition with the Commerce Department to tear up a 16-year-old trade agreement with Mexico. They say they're being devastated by the import of Mexican tomatoes into the united states–lower costs than Florida and then, the politics gets ratcheted up. They get letters—bipartisan letters from the Florida Congressional delegation—talking about the precarious situation of Florida tomato growers. Sen. Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), up for re-election, writes a letter to the Commerce Department. "I believe time is of the essence in this matter," Nelson writes. He says he's talking about the growing season, but you get an election season letter, time is of the essence. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chairman of the Democratic National Committee–not a lot of tomato growers in those condos in Broward County—she writes a letter to the Commerce Department on behalf of this and also, Sherrod Brown and Dick Durbin. Why? You got workers involved. The worker agreement to help conditions of Florida growers, so they also write letters. Who gets the letters? That's where you got to follow the dots on this. the top decision maker at commerce market, Francisco Sanchez, a Florida lawyer, ran for mayor of Tampa, Obama campaign bundler in '08, had been a top leader in the Hispanic Committee for Obama. He's the political appointee. He makes the decision. The Mexicans are furious, threatening a trade war over this.
The Washington Free Beacon reported on the politicized move by the administration Monday morning:
Tomatoes grown in the United States are more expensive than tomatoes from Mexico, a disparity that has led tomato growers and producers to sell Mexican tomatoes in the U.S. below market prices. Some consider such exporting to be a predatory practice known as "dumping."
A 1996 agreement between the U.S. and Mexico ended an anti-dumping investigation by the Commerce Department into Mexican tomato producers and exporters by setting a price floor for Mexican tomatoes that protected the American tomato industry.
On June 22, a group of primarily Florida-based tomato growers requested that the Commerce Department end the agreement, arguing it was out of date and that the price floor no longer adequately protected the domestic growers, according to a Commerce Department memo.
The Commerce Department announced a "changed circumstances review" on Aug. 21 before announcing a "preliminary intent to terminate" the 1996 agreement just 37 days after the department opened the review.
Ending the agreement would allow the U.S. to relaunch the antidumping investigation and institute protectionist measures, potentially cutting off Mexican tomatoes from the U.S. market and raising fears of a trade war between the two countries.