Attack of the Killer Tomatoes?

A recent letter from 48 Senators and House members complained that Americans aren’t paying enough for tomatoes and asked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to do something about it.

Not many products cost less now than they did in the 1990s, but the real, inflation-adjusted price Americans pay for tomatoes was actually lower in 2017 than when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect in 1994. During that time frame, the supply of tomatoes available to U.S. restaurants and households has increased by nearly 50 percent.

Lawmakers should be celebrating this success story, not trying to undermine it.

NAFTA eliminated most trade barriers between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. This allowed producers in each country to specialize in areas where they have a comparative advantage -- like corn growers in the United States and tomato producers in Mexico.  

When some U.S. tomato growers decided they no longer wanted to compete with Mexican producers under this free trade arrangement, they convinced the Obama administration to cut a protectionist deal in 2013 that restricted imports.

According to Francisco J. Sanchez, President Obama’s U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade: “The draft agreement raises reference prices substantially, in some cases more than double the current reference price for certain products.”

Now some U.S. producers want to tear up that agreement so DC bureaucrats can impose even higher barriers at the expense of American tomato consumers.

U.S. lawmakers complain that Mexican exporters have demonstrated their unwillingness to deal in good faith.

That’s backwards. Mexican exporters have worked in good faith with Americans to engage in mutually beneficial commerce. The bad faith comes from U.S. officials who see nothing wrong with picking winners and losers at the expense of average Americans.