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GFB's Long urges USTR to seek solutions for produce growers

by Georgia Farm Bureau

Posted on Sep 02, 2020 at 0:00 AM

Georgia Farm Bureau President Gerald Long asked the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to use any means necessary to remedy Mexico’s unfair trade practices that are harming Georgia produce growers. 

Long testified in a Aug. 20 virtual hearing before officials from USTR, USDA and the U.S. Department of Commerce. The GFB president was one of two dozen witnesses to testify, including Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall and Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (GFVGA) Executive Director Charles Hall. Seven Georgia farmers testified as well.

Long pointed out that Georgia’s seasonal and perishable commodity production has been—and continues to be—directly affected by Mexican imports due to shared marketing periods. Georgia producers are struggling to compete against heavily subsidized Mexican imports.  Long said Mexico’s unfair market practices have undercut American farmers. 

“NAFTA failed to provide protections or a remedy for our seasonal and perishable commodity producers, and the newly established USMCA effectively followed suit,” Long said. 

Long noted the U.S.’ $5 billion agricultural trade deficit with Mexico, saying it is largely due to imported fruits and vegetables, and that fruit, vegetable and nut production combined provide more than 26,000 jobs and $4.5 billion to Georgia’s economy.

During the USMCA negotiations, Mexico resisted provisions that would limit its produce exports to the U.S. during U.S. growing seasons.

Long said the USMCA’s failure to provide adequate protection for this industry must be addressed because the viability of many family farms in Georgia is at stake.  

“I’m afraid we will continue to see farm closures and severe losses in our local economies if action is not taken soon,” Long said. 

Possible actions Long mentioned included the consideration of a Section 301 investigation as allowed under the Trade Act of 1974, collection of data to show the impact Mexican imports have on Georgia fruit and vegetable marketing seasons, and for producers to have an opportunity to bring a trade dispute before federal trade officials.

Hall presented sobering statistics from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services on how Mexico’s produce imports to the U.S. have grown. For example, Mexican shipments of specialty crops to the U.S. grew by 551% between 2000 and 2019, and the market value of Mexican produce sold in the U.S. has grown from $12.9 billion to more than $15 billion over the past three years. Mexico’s share of the U.S. blueberry market grew by 2,111% from 2010 to 2019.

“As you can imagine, the domestic grower is helpless against this scale of import pressure,” Hall said. “When those imports are coming in at prices below his cost of production, he is doomed.”

Georgia Agricultural Commodity Commission for Blueberries Chairman Jerome Crosby testified that blueberry growers have lost the market for their berries harvested in May and now find their June harvest at risk because of Mexican imports. Further, Crosby said, U.S. growers are being denied access to provisions of U.S. trade laws. Crosby said the unfair market landscape contributed to a loss of 25% of Georgia’s market and a 24% to 48% reduction in price on the fruit growers are able to sell in 2020. He requested the ability of Georgia growers to file petitions for import relief.

“If you remove the American farmer from the equation, if you allow us to be knocked out of business by dumped and subsidized competition, then you leave the market to the imports,” Crosby said. “And you remove any competitive incentive for foreign producers to send to the U.S. market the safe food products our consumers need and expect.”

On Sept. 1, the USTR, USDA and Department of Commerce announced plans to address threats posed by increased foreign imports to U.S. producers of season and perishable fruits and vegetables. The plan includes making a USTR request to the International Trade Commission to investigate the relationship between imports and losses sustained by U.S. blueberry, strawberry and bell pepper growers, and opening discussions with Mexico to address growers’ concerns.

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