Leading up to the second round of negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement, 11 companies have formed the Produce Coalition for NAFTA, warning that certain changes to the deal could lead to higher prices for consumers.

The group supports continued duty-free access to Canada and Mexico and opposes seasonal dumping rules. It expressed those views Aug. 30 in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

“We just want to monitor very closely and make sure they hear our voice,” said Steve Barnard, president and CEO of coalition member Mission Produce. “There will be payback from both sides (Canada and Mexico) if we do something rash like changing how dumping rules are defined and executed.

“It’s not going to be that we control the game here,” Barnard said. “If we do something — we meaning the U.S. — and apply those policies and rules ... there will be payback, which will cost the U.S. consumer, primarily, a lot of money.”

Some members of the coalition, including Barnard, will be in Mexico City while negotiations take place.

“We’ll be down there in force to let them know that we’re paying attention,” Barnard said. “They need to know our side of the story, too.”

Produce growers in the Southeast have voiced a different perspective, arguing that inexpensive Mexican produce has made it difficult for them to compete.

The companies in the Produce Coalition for NAFTA are:

  • Driscoll’s, Watsonville, Calif.
  • Fall Creek Farm & Nursery, Lowell, Ore.
  • Growers Express, Salinas, Calif.
  • JV Smith Cos., Yuma, Ariz.
  • Mission Produce, Oxnard, Calif.
  • NatureSweet, San Antonio, Texas
  • Red Sun Farms, Kingsville, Ontario
  • Star Produce, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
  • Mastronardi Produce, Kingsville
  • Taylor Farms, Salinas
  • The Wonderful Co., Los Angeles

“We’ve all got major investments in either Canada and/or Mexico,” Barnard said. “In our case, in the avocado business, we’re heavily invested there, (and) we can show you the facts and numbers that show that by having a Mexican supply the consumption has gone way up, the value of the crop has gone up, and the return to California growers has gone up, simultaneously, because it’s now a consistent supply of good quality year-round.

“Our concern is that with this dumping discussion that came out of the Florida tomato world that there will be an overreaction and tip the cart over,” Barnard said.

He predicted the coalition will grow in size.

“I think once the word gets out it’ll gain a lot of momentum,” Barnard said.