Trade Conflicts Can and Will Impact Florida Agriculture
Florida growers cannot seem to escape the constant challenge associated with trade. Trade is critical to economies around the world and to global peace. The U.S. saw its trade deficit (where imports exceed exports) in goods alone grow from $752.5 billion in 2016 to $811.2 billion in 2017, an increase of 7.8%.
The trade deficit with China has grown to $375 billion. The U.S. trade deficit with Mexico, Canada, and China combined has grown to $475 billion in 2017, or 58.5% of the total U.S. trade deficit in 2017. It should be no surprise that the Trump administration is focusing on these countries in its trade agenda.
The Florida Factor
As difficult as trade has been for many of our producers, it is important to the future of many Florida products. Florida was the seventh largest state exporter of goods in 2016 and the 15th largest exporter for agricultural goods. Florida exports of goods totaled $52 billion in 2016, an increase of 35% ($13 billion) since 2006. Exported goods accounted for 6.1% of the Florida Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2015, a measure of economic activity. An estimated 244,000 jobs were supported by Florida goods exported in 2015.
The U.S. Trade Representative has discussed several negotiating objectives that could provide relief to fresh fruit and vegetable growers. The first was to provide reasonable adjustment periods for U.S. imports of sensitive agricultural products, engaging with Congress on such products before initiating tariff-reducing negotiations. In addition, discussions have been held on procedures to adjudicate conflicts for seasonal and cyclical perishable crops. It is currently difficult to seek remedies for trade-distorting practices in the World Trade Organization (WTO) for seasonal-producing areas of perishable crops. This point has been put forward in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiations in hopes that seasonal producers could seek timely trade remedies without having to include considerations for impacts on the national market.
The hope was that NAFTA renegotiations would be completed by the spring of 2018. Little progress was accomplished in Mexico City during the round seven negotiations in early spring. Both Canada and Mexico have threatened to pull out of the negotiations without further compromise from U.S. negotiators, who have suggested that without further concessions from Canada and Mexico, the U.S. might pull out of the agreement.
The on again/off again trade conflict with China also threatens U.S. agriculture, with more of that impact falling on oilseed producers. If the future of Florida’s agriculture hangs on a new NAFTA and a reasonable resolution of trade disputes with China, then hard work lies ahead for our negotiators. Given the volatility in relations between countries and the political volatility of agendas within countries, then promoting investment in technology development may still be our best hope for Florida agriculture.