Imports more boon than bane

01/09/2014 03:13:00 PM
Tom Karst

Tom KarstDepending on who you ask, fruit and vegetable imports are either a boon or a bane for American consumers and the U.S. economy.

But which is it, really?

These divergent views on fresh produce imports came into sharp focus with the a recent National Public Radio feature called “The Fruits Of Free Trade: How NAFTA Revamped The American Diet” noted the 20-year anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The feature gives a shorthand account of the rapid growth in the winter season variety found in the fresh produce department. From the story’s beginning:

“Walk through the produce section of your supermarket and you’ll see things you’d never have seen years ago — like fresh raspberries or green beans in the dead of winter. Much of that produce comes from Mexico, and it’s the result of the North American Free Trade Agreement — NAFTA — which took effect 20 years ago this month. In the years since, NAFTA radically changed the way we get our fruits and vegetables. For starters, the volume of produce from Mexico to the U.S. has tripled since 1994.”

 The story goes on to interview Jaime Chamberlain, president of J-C Distributing Inc., Nogales, Ariz., who told the NPR reporters that the elimination of tariffs has created market opportunities to invest in year-round produce sourcing in Mexico.

The NPR NAFTA feature, published online Jan. 9, pulled in 78 reader comments and rising by that same morning.

The tone of the consumer opinions shows some resistance to the growth of imports for a variety of predictable and debatable reasons. There was one who called the NPR feature a “puff piece” and sounded the alarm about pesticide use and working conditions in Mexico. Others speculated about the environmental impact of transporting imported fruits and vegetables. Lamenting the plight of the middle class, one reader said Ross Perot was right about free trade agreements. Another described the appeal of the local food movement.

She wrote:

“Those who don’t care about where their food comes from should read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver--for starters. Once you realize your buying decisions actually have a real, measurable effect on your local economy it becomes more difficult to continue buying those tomatoes from Wal-Mart.”

Yes, but perhaps not as difficult as buying local tomatoes in February in a Chicagoland supermarket.


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