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National Restaurant Association - Tomatoes could be hot potato for industry

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Tomatoes could be hot potato for industry

As a potential showdown over a tomato trade agreement between the United States and Mexico looms, the National Restaurant Association urged the Department of Commerce, as part of an official circumstances review process, to proceed carefully in making any determination that could affect the tomato markets and create operational challenges for the restaurant industry.

The NRA told Rebecca Blank, Commerce's acting secretary, that restaurant and foodservice operations account for roughly 34 percent of tomato consumption in the United States, and are responsible for purchasing an estimated 1 billion pounds of tomatoes annually.

"As major consumers of both domestic and Mexican tomatoes, the industry is concerned that the termination of the existing trade agreement will lead to volatility in tomato prices for restaurant and foodservice operators and their customers," said Scott DeFife, executive vice president of policy and government affairs. "Unpredictable, and possibly higher, tomato prices could negatively impact industry operations and American jobs to the detriment of the public interest."

DeFife said the NRA is hopeful that the trade agreement will either be kept in place or renegotiated to address the concerns of both domestic and Mexican tomato growers.

The department is expected to decide by May 13, 2013 if it should end the 16-year-old trade agreement with Mexico. Suspending a trade agreement like this one allows for a 270-day review process with all interested parties getting a chance to comment. Commerce, however, has already issued a preliminary ruling, which was published Oct. 2 in the Federal Register. A 30-day period set for public comments on the preliminary ruling signaled the department's intent to terminate the agreement. The 30-day period ends Nov. 2.

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