(UPDATED, Jan. 8) Legislation called the Defending Domestic Produce Production Act would relax thresholds needed by U.S. producers to bring anti-dumping lawsuits against imported produce.
The legislation, first proposed in September, was reintroduced in early January in the new Congress by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and also by U.S. Representatives Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and Al Lawson, D-Fla. The lawmakers say the bill will help Florida growers combat Mexico’s unfair trade practices.
The proposed legislation would make it easier for Florida farmers to petition the Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission to investigate illegal subsidies and dumping of Mexican fruits and vegetables in the U.S. market, according to a news release.
While current law requires petitioners to demonstrate harm as measured from a nationwide and year-round perspective, the bill would take into account the “unique circumstances of seasonal fruit and vegetable producers who are directly harmed by Mexico’s practices in various geographic regions during different seasons.”
“We must do all we can to ensure a level playing field for Florida’s fruit and vegetable growers,” Rubio said in the release.
“Absent any effective agreement with the Mexican government covering seasonal and perishable produce imports, I’m proud to support this bill to increase opportunities for Florida growers to successfully seek relief from the illegal dumping of Mexican winter produce into our domestic markets.”
Florida growers suffer from Mexico’s unfair subsidies and illegal seasonal dumping, Buchanan said in the release.
“This legislation will level the playing field for a vital industry to Florida’s economy,” he said in the release.
The Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association said in a statement that farmers in Florida will continue to go out of business if the U.S. government fails to provide critical trade relief to battle what the group called “cheap Mexican produce imports flooding the market.”
“The Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association wholeheartedly supports the Defending Domestic Produce Production Act introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Vern Buchanan and Al Lawson,” the group said in a statement. “This bill will provide critically needed trade relief for specialty crop producers in Florida and the Southeast.”
FFVA said that in less than two decades, unfair subsidies by the Mexican government for its fruit and vegetable producers have allowed Mexico’s industry to overtake the U.S. market.
“According to a University of Florida study, the Mexican government’s investments in protected agriculture – crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries and peppers -- have boosted the Mexican specialty crop industry by a multiple of 52 since 2000, putting extreme pressure on U.S. producers of those same crops,” the statement said. “Farmers in the Southeast are finding it impossible to keep pace with rising costs and are folding their tents.”
Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, representing distributors of Mexican produce, said in a statement that the seasonality protection pushed by Florida during the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement negotiations didn't win enough support for inclusion.
"A majority of US agriculture and international commerce industries opposed changing U.S. trade law to benefit a specific regional and seasonal agriculture sector, which is why it was not included in the USMCA," Jungmeyer said. "The reason is simple. If US trade law is manipulated in this way, it invites other nations to put up similar trade barriers, which will inevitably lead to a decrease in US exports of fresh produce and other American agricultural products."
Jungmeyer said that growers outside of the U.S. southeast have been adapting to meet the demands of a free market that is driven by consumer choice.
"With the Rubio bill, U.S. consumers would have to pay more money for winter fruit and vegetables, due to decreased supply," he said, adding that weather events like hurricanes and freezes in Florida would worsen the shortages.
"This is a heavy price to benefit a small group of Florida growers," Jungmeyer said. "At the end of the day, Americans should not leave grocery stores with less in their shopping baskets and less in their bank accounts, but that is what the Rubio bill would accomplish."