The United States and Mexico have reached an agreement in principle on terms for imports of Mexican tomatoes, preventing the trade war feared in the wake of Washington's decision last year to suspend a 1996 bilateral accord.

The deal was reached over the weekend and raises the minimum price for Mexican tomatoes sold in the United States, U.S. Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco Sanchez said in a statement.

"The draft agreement raises reference prices substantially, in some cases more than double the current reference price for certain products, and accounts for changes that have occurred in the tomato market since the signing of the original agreement. This solution puts in place important mechanisms to attain increased signatory coverage and robust enforcement that will allow American workers and the U.S tomato industry to compete on a level playing field," Sanchez said.

The Department of Commerce has opened the draft agreement for public comment until March 4.

The new agreement will replace the 1996 accord, which was suspended by the U.S. government last September amid pressure from tomato growers in Florida.

The growers complained that Mexican tomatoes were being sold below their production cost.

Nearly half of the tomatoes consumed in the United States are grown in Mexico. EFE