ITC KOS BID FOR TOMATO LEVY NOW

WASHINGTON (FNS) -- The International Trade Commission has denied a request by Florida tomato growers to immediately levy punitive tariffs on Mexican tomato imports.The decision, however, does not affect the ITC's inquiry into the Florida grower's allegations that Mexican imports have been dumped on the U.S. market at below fair market value, a violation of domestic trade laws.In their petition filed

WASHINGTON (FNS) -- The International Trade Commission has denied a request by Florida tomato growers to immediately levy punitive tariffs on Mexican tomato imports.

The decision, however, does not affect the ITC's inquiry into the Florida grower's allegations that Mexican imports have been dumped on the U.S. market at below fair market value, a violation of domestic trade laws.

In their petition filed last month, the Florida growers had sought immediate imposition of punitive tariffs on Mexican tomato imports pending the outcome of the investigation, due to be completed July 27.

The ITC voted 5-0 on April 17 to deny the provisional relief. Commissioner David Rohr, the only member to issue a statement regarding the vote, noted that the winter tomato season ends in April and thus imposing provisional tariffs would be of no benefit to Florida growers.

"Petitioners request provisional relief only through the end of April, admitting that imports during nonwinter months are not injurious in terms of actual and relative numbers," Rohr wrote.

In asking ITC for relief, Florida growers acted on a long-simmering complaint about their only rival for winter and spring U.S. tomato sales. As they see it, even before tariffs began phasing out under the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexican growers have had the upper hand since their wage and production costs were lower. Now, Florida growers say, Mexico's economic crisis that has devalued the peso by more than 60% has spurred Mexican growers to exceed their seasonal tomato shipments to the United States in search of higher prices.

The increase in shipments has actually had the opposite effect on wholesale prices, lowering the take on a 25-pound box of tomatoes in mid-February to $4 from $14, said Wayne Hawkins, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, Orlando, Fla.