Fresh Summit attendees mingle at a Produce Coalition for NAFTA event.
NEW ORLEANS — Speakers at a Produce Coalition for NAFTA event urged industry members Oct. 20 to speak up in support of the trade agreement and to communicate its importance to those around them, hoping the message will reach consumers.
Industry heavyweights Mission Produce, Driscoll’s and The Wonderful Co. were among companies represented at the coalition event at Fresh Summit. The group formed in late August as a way for those organizations and others to voice their views on the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Unlike some growers in the Southeast, who have advocated for a seasonal produce protection provision, coalition members like the current deal and oppose the seasonal provision, arguing that it limits trade opportunities and that it could lead to retaliation.
In addition to encouraging that position in the produce industry, the coalition hopes to have a wider reach.
“The challenge that we face is that consumers often don’t know where their produce comes from, but they just know that they want availability of good quality fresh fruits and vegetables. And so we as businesses have worked to provide that to them, irrespective of where it comes from. So our job is to explain more about why we need trade agreements like this ... so we can satisfy what they want and their needs,” said Wonderful Citrus president David Krause.
The next steps for the coalition will depend in part on how NAFTA negotiations go, said Mario Steta, Driscoll’s vice president and general manager of Latin America.
Originally scheduled to conclude near the end of the year, talks are now expected to go until at least March.
That development could be positive in terms of the actual negotiations, allowing for a more normal pace instead of a rushed one, but the timing could also make the process more politicized as Mexico’s elections draw nearer, Steta said.
In the meantime, the coalition wants to garner as much support as possible.
“Our expectation is that who was here today will be able to act on some of the actual messaging we want to send out (to) media, government, retail, and then that they will also influence their own people they interact with,” Steta said.