NAFTA — the much-maligned North America Free Trade Agreement — came to us straight from the Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time Department. Hindsight being 20/20, it’s clear it was not, especially for the domestic produce industry. That’s why growers and affiliates are hopeful of change as NAFTA 2.0 negotiations are underway in Mexico City.
As of the evening of Sept. 8, little progress had been made as those negotiations continued.
As the second round of negotiations drew to a close in Mexico City, the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association renewed its call for new trade rules to protect American producers of fresh fruits and vegetables, especially those in The Sunshine State.
FFVA contends that Florida grows the highest quality produce in the world, providing an annual economic impact of $12.2 billion and that the state’s producers can successfully compete in a fair global marketplace.
Current Trade Environment Clobbered Domestic Producers
“But the current unfair trade environment fostered by NAFTA has severely hurt Florida’s specialty crop producers,” says FFVA President Mike Stuart. “Family farms that have operated for generations are desperate to see relief from cheap Mexican fruit and vegetable imports into the United States.”
Producers of perishable and seasonal agricultural products in Florida and the Southeast are seeking trade remedies that would protect them from injury from unfair practices such as dumping and subsidies during their production seasons.
Late last week, Florida’s congressional delegation again voiced its support for such measures in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. They asked for more protections for Florida growers and called Mexico’s unfair trade practices “unsustainable for Florida’s fresh fruit and vegetable sector.”
Legislators Petition House Agriculture Committee
“The new rules … contemplated in the NAFTA negotiating objectives will ensure that these producers, who can only sell during certain periods of the year and are especially vulnerable to trade surges, have recourse to viable trade remedies when faced with unfair trade practices,” the letter read in part, signed by Reps. Neal Dunn, Ted Yoho, Al Lawson and Darren Soto, members of the House Agriculture Committee, along with 16 other members of Congress.
Florida’s Senate delegation of Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio also weighed in in their own letter. “It is critically important that NAFTA provide a fair and equitable market for U.S. Fruit and vegetable growers,” they wrote. “To this end, we are hopeful the Administration will use all means available to prevent Mexico from targeting regional growers in an effort to monopolize the U.S. market during certain seasons.”
“This is not a new idea,” said FFVA President Mike Stuart. “Congress, this administration and previous administrations have recognized the unique problems of this industry. Negotiating objectives in the last several trade promotion authority statutes over the past 15 years have addressed this issue.”
Arguments warning of dire consequences for consumers are alarmist, Stuart said. “To the contrary, consumers benefit when they have a choice of sources for fresh produce. Unfair trade practices don’t deserve a defense. That does nothing to support the cause of free trade. “
As NAFTA is renegotiated, the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association pledges it will continue to underscore the critical need for relief and will work with elected leaders and the administration to support the goal of a separate domestic industry provision.
FFVA (www.ffva.com) is a full-service organization serving Florida’s grower-shipper community since 1943. It represents a broad range of crops: vegetables, citrus, tropical fruit, berries, sod, sugar cane, tree crops and more.