WASHINGTON -- The Commerce Department on Thursday indicated it may side with Florida tomato growers and squash a 16-year-old trade agreement with Mexico.
The move would allow U.S. growers to seek anti-dumping duties on imports of fresh tomatoes from Mexico. Tomato growers in Florida have sought to have the agreement ended, arguing that it is outdated and that Mexican imports are crippling the domestic industry.
Mexico's government says such a move would damage its trade relations with the United States, its partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement. It said the country's trade in tomatoes with the United States was worth over $1.8 billion in 2011.
The Commerce Department said it will make a final determination on the future of the tomato agreement in no later than 270 days.
Mexican tomato growers had sought a meeting last month to find a "mutually satisfactory" solution to the tomato issue, the country's Economy Department said Thursday.
"The Economy Department expresses its deep concern over the negative impact this preliminary decision could have on our bilateral trade relationship."
It noted that ending the agreement would lead to higher prices for U.S. consumers.
The decision is "inconsistent with the position expressed in the past, that the agreement is in the (U.S.) public interest."