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When President Trump signed the USMCA, responses from the U.S., Canada and Mexican fresh produce industries were generally positive, focusing on a return to certainty on trade issues and continuation of NAFTA’s lack of tariffs.

U.S. growers — primarily from Florida and Georgia — who say NAFTA eroded their market share in favor of imports, were not among those celebrating. Throughout the USMCA negotiation process, they sought protections for their perishable products when in season, under “anti-dumping and countervailing duty” provisions.

Early on in the process, those growers were encouraged by the Trump administration’s stance. 

“Throughout the months of trade talks leading up to USMCA passage, the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association worked hard alongside our congressional delegation to convey the effects of unfair trade practices on Florida’s fresh fruit and vegetable industry over the past two decades under NAFTA,” according to an FFVA statement on the USMCA signing.

Trade representatives in Mexico, however, made it clear that any such protections in the USMCA would be a poison pill.

Throughout the process, the pro- and anti-seasonal protection camps kept in touch with the office of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. On Jan. 9, he sent a letter to Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott and the state’s Congressional delegation, outlining his office’s plans to follow up on allegations of unfair trade practices.

That includes a commitment to immediately begin gathering information on “trade-distorting policies that may be contributing to unfair pricing in the U.S. market for seasonal and perishable products and to assess the impact of those policies on U.S. producers,” Lighthizer wrote.

Within 60 days after “entry-into-force” of the USMCA, the USTR will “implement effective and timely remedies necessary to address any trade distorting policies” harming U.S. growers. Within 90 days, the Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of Agriculture and USTR will have hearings in Florida and Georgia to hear testimony from growers, according to Lighthizer’s letter.

“This is a positive development in our ongoing efforts to secure trade relief, indicating that our concerns have been heard by the trade ambassador,” according to the FFVA statement, which also thanks Florida’s Congressional delegation. “We remain optimistic that we can continue to make progress and deliver a viable solution for our members in an effective, timely manner.”

Arizona Senators Krysten Sinema and Martha McSally took exception to Lighthizer’s letter to Florida lawmakers.

“I am extremely disappointed that you have promised my colleagues in the Southeast a plan that masquerades as fairness for U.S. farmers but instead raises the specter of future trade conflicts that will harm businesses in my state,”  McSally wrote to Lighthizer.

The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, Nogales, Ariz., also released a statement in response to the Jan. 9 lettter.

"As was clearly shown during the USMCA negotiations, the majority of U.S. agriculture rejects seasonality provisions because of the harm it could bring to U.S. growers that export to other countries, including apples, grains, soybeans, and more,” according to the FPAA statement. “They understood that a seasonality provision was designed to help a small group of producers in Florida at the expense of many other domestic agriculture groups that would be harmed in tit-for-tat trade skirmishes in key export markets.”

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