Timeless Trade Solution for Specialty Crop Growers Needed Now

Back when President Trump announced that he wanted to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA), the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association (FFVA) looked at it as an opportunity to correct a significant flaw — the lack of a trade remedy for specialty crop producers hurt by the dumping of cheap Mexican produce into the U.S. market.

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A Concerted Effort
In early 2017, FFVA formed an informal working group of growers and other associations to tackle the issue. Also involved were the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and Florida’s congressional delegation. Their involvement would be critical to any success we might achieve.

That began a concerted effort on numerous levels to remedy two decades of unfair trading practices by Mexico that have wreaked havoc on Florida’s specialty crop growers. Here are some highlights of that effort:
In spring 2017, a group of Florida’s congressional delegation called on the Department of Commerce to investigate Mexico’s unfair trade practices and dumping of specialty crops into U.S. markets. They also urged the Commerce Department, the U.S. Trade Representative, and the International Trade Commission to come up with a new pact to protect Florida agriculture and level the playing field.

In May 2017, FFVA submitted testimony on negotiating objectives to help guide the administration. They were announced in July, and included trade objectives that broadly captured FFVA’s priorities, including seeking “a separate domestic industry provision for perishable and seasonal products in anti-dumping and countervailing duty proceedings.” Throughout the negotiations, FFVA President Mike Stuart was on hand as a member of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee.

Included in the negotiations was a provision that would provide trade relief to specialty crop growers, which FFVA applauded. The proposal would have made it easier to allege that Mexico sells produce in the U.S. at below-market prices by allowing U.S. producers in a region to bring an anti-dumping case backed by seasonal data.

Unfortunately, that measure came under attack from within and outside of the fresh produce industry. FFVA reminded key members of Congress and the administration what was at stake for Florida specialty crop growers and stressed that if no unfair or illegal trade practices occurred, there was no danger of retaliatory tariffs.

Seeking New Solutions
As the NAFTA renegotiations were drawing to a close in spring of 2018, Florida’s lawmakers continued to urge trade relief for our state’s fruit and vegetable farmers. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson reminded the House and Senate Finance Committees in a letter that “inclusion or exclusion of the provision will factor greatly in our decision to ratify a renegotiated NAFTA.”

Ultimately, that provision was cut in the final round of negotiation. The administration announced a proposed U.S.-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USMCA) in August 2018. It was not the outcome we had worked for. However, we have continued working diligently with the administration on solutions to help our fruit and vegetable industry survive.

We’re grateful for strong leadership and support from our delegation. Nelson and Rubio introduced the Agriculture Trade Improvement Act in the fall of 2018. It was replaced by the Defending Domestic Produce Production Act in January, introduced by Rubio and Reps. Vern Buchanan and Al Lawson. Eventually, Florida’s entire delegation signed on as co-sponsors.

Two key University of Florida studies on the economic impact of unfair Mexican subsidization of agriculture and the significant growth in its share of the U.S. market have bolstered our arguments. Most important, Florida growers have stepped up in a big way to be heard in Washington.

FFVA will continue working alongside other agriculture organizations, lawmakers, and the administration to push for adoption of a trade solution for specialty crop growers. Stay tuned.