U.S. growers, trade groups, Florida officials and members of Congress testified virtually in front of federal agencies that imports, mostly targeting Mexico, are increasingly making harder for U.S. farms to survive.
“When faced with the data, the harm being caused by these trade practices cannot be denied — I implore the administration to see these figures not only as numbers on a chart, but as an attack on Americans’ livelihoods,” Nikki Fried, commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said at the hearing.
Fried and other officials, along with growers, mostly from Florida, testified during a hearing by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Commerce Department on Aug. 13. Another hearing is set for Aug. 20.
The live-streamed event featured about three dozen speakers. It was scheduled by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer after growers in Florida, Georgia and some other states requested seasonal trade protections in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Those requests were not successful, but Lighthizer promised to follow up.
Fried referred to a recent study from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, “Putting Florida’s Farmers First: Mexico’s Ag-Exports Impacts on Florida Agriculture.”
According to the study, Florida’s share of the U.S. domestic market has dropped 40%, while Mexico’s has grown 217%.
“I’m thankful that the administration provided the opportunity to hear directly from the farmers, families, and communities that are suffering due to unfair trade practices,” Fried said, according to a statement from the department. “The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services stands ready to assist our federal and industry partners as we move towards long-overdue solutions.”
Mike Joyner, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, said Mexico’s government has “funneled extraordinary levels” (more than $200 million each year) into the country’s protected-agriculture industry, and targeted Eastern U.S. markets by pricing products cheaper there than in western states.
“Florida’s fresh-produce industry is in deep crisis,” Joyner said at the hearing. “It needs prompt USTR trade relief if our country hopes to continue feeding Americans domestically grown fruits and vegetables in the fall, winter and spring.”
He asked Lighthizer to investigate Mexican Trade practices, or launch a trade relief measure.
Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales, Ariz.-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, did not testify at the hearing, but released a statement from the group in response to remarks made in support of U.S growers.
He cited the repeated use of phrases during the testimony throughout the day, including “unfair subsidies,” “unfair trade-distorting practices,” “national security” and “unfair labor,” without “providing reasonable evidence or context,” according to the FPAA statement.
“Despite repeating the inflammatory phrases over and over, Florida and Georgia speakers did not present concrete, verifiable examples of their claims. Repeating the claims enough times does not make the claims true,” Jungmeyer said in the statement.