Last week new Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nicole “Nikki” Fried sent a letter to Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, the United States Trade Representative, raising serious concerns about the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
The pending multilateral trade agreement and successor to NAFTA, called “definitely worse than the current situation,” threatens to devastate business for American seasonal crop growers, particularly those in Florida, Georgia, and other Southeast states due to a lack of trade protections. Fresh seasonal produce including tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, watermelon, blueberries, and others are seriously affected by unfair trade practices. Meanwhile, Mexican growers and their seasonal products are dumped into our domestic markets, benefiting from massive government subsidies, significant wage differences, and unfair pricing practices.
“Florida fruit and vegetable farmers cannot afford this trend continuing – I urge the Administration to take appropriate action to protect U.S. seasonal growers from unfair foreign imports and trade practices,” wrote Commissioner Fried in the letter. “Without enforceable remedies in place, these unfair practices will continue, further threatening Florida’s farmers, agriculture industry, and economy. … I look forward to working with you towards a solution that will put American farmers and families first.”
In related news, in February Florida elected to withdraw from the Mexican tomato suspension agreement that has been in place for two decades as an effort to eliminate illegal dumping of Mexican product on U.S. markets at noncompetitive pricing.
Mexico has since proposed some changes to the agreement, proposing a new, modified agreement to take its place.
Last week Florida Tomato Committee Executive Vice President Michael Schadler said he believes Florida growers would listen to a new deal.
“The domestic industry remains open to negotiating a new suspension agreement to prevent unfairly traded Mexican tomatoes from continuing to injure American tomato producers,” Schadler said in a prepared statement. “We welcome the Mexican proposal because, for the first time, it contains some useful suggestions on how to prevent circumvention of the suspension agreement by Mexican producers.
“We will be providing comments to the Commerce Department on the Mexican proposal
along with ideas on how to improve the earlier Commerce Department proposal from
October 2018. We are hopeful this will lead to negotiations between the Mexican growers and the Commerce Department for a new suspension agreement that will finally meet the statutory requirement to eliminate completely the injurious effects of unfairly traded
Commissioner Fried fired off her letter in the wake of announcing her support for the federal Domestic Produce Production Act (S. 16 and H.R. 101) put forward by U.S. Senator Marco Rubio and U.S. Representatives Vern Buchanan and Al Lawson, all representing Florida.
Of that bipartisan legislation, Commissioner Fried joined lawmakers and agriculture industry groups in saying, “NAFTA failed for 25 years to address the disastrous effects of unfair trade practices, and the USMCA appears to do no better. If we’re going to put America first, we need to start with a level playing field for the American growers who feed our families, communities, and nation.”