Specialty Crop Concern Feeds Need to Negotiate NAFTA Now

Specialty Crop Concern Feeds Need to Negotiate NAFTA Now

If all goes according to announced plans, by now, the administration has opened negotiations on NAFTA. In the months leading up to the July release of trade negotiation objectives by the U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) office, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association (FFVA) and other industry groups, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and Florida’s legislative delegation worked to highlight the impact on Florida growers of cheap imports of fresh fruits and vegetables under NAFTA. Specifically, FFVA met numerous times with lawmakers, wrote letters, submitted comments, and testified at hearings called by the Trump Administration.

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The negotiation goals outlined by the USTR support priorities that FFVA has expressed to the administration on behalf of specialty crop agriculture.

“FFVA looks forward to working closely with the administration on a comprehensive strategy that aligns near-term remedies with longer-term NAFTA specialty crop reforms to provide the Florida industry with lasting protections against unfairly traded Mexican produce,” FFVA President Mike Stuart said.

Although the objectives may not deliver the short-term relief the Florida industry needs, they appear intended to be responsive to Florida’s NAFTA goals. The 13-page list includes a mix of conventional and unconventional trade goals, but it broadly captures FFVA’s priorities. Some excerpts:
• Improve the U.S. trade balance and reduce the trade deficit with the NAFTA countries.
• Seek a separate domestic industry provision for perishable and seasonal products in antidumping/countervailing duty proceedings.
• Preserve the ability of the U.S. to vigorously enforce its trade laws, including the antidumping, countervailing duty, and safeguard laws.
• Require NAFTA countries to have laws governing acceptable conditions of work with respect to minimum wages, hours of work, and occupational safety and health.
• Include general exceptions that allow for the protection of legitimate U.S. domestic objectives, including the protection of health or safety and essential security, among others.
• Through an appropriate mechanism, ensure NAFTA countries avoid manipulating exchange rates in order to prevent effective balance of payments, adjustments, or to gain an unfair competitive advantage.

Recognizing the Problem

On another encouraging note, during a July House Ways and Means Committee meeting, U.S. Trade Ambassador Robert Lighthizer acknowledged the “acute problem.” He was responding to testimony from U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan and Carlos Curbelo of Florida. The two both raised significant concerns about the loss of profits for Florida fruit and vegetable producers during the past two decades under NAFTA.

“I assure you it’s something that we are going to focus on in this negotiation, and hopefully we’re going to get an outcome that’s going to satisfy the producers in your district and any and all of Florida,” Lighthizer told Curbelo. “I’m not obviously as familiar with it as you are, but I’ve talked to the governor [Scott] about it, who has raised this issue a lot,” he said, adding that it was “something I want to engage on.”

Emerging Leaders Broaden Horizons on California Trip

The California production tour opened a window to new crops and production practices for Class 6 of FFVA’s Emerging Leader Development Program. Company presidents and farm managers opened their operations to the group as it traveled across the Salinas Valley in late June. The class saw some crops for the first time, including apples, mushrooms, artichokes, and wine grapes. But they also learned that many of the same issues pose challenges in California just as they do in Florida. The No. 1 issue raised repeatedly was a serious shortage of labor. A close second was over-regulation by the state. And though the California drought may be over, growers also cited water quality and quantity concerns.