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Florida farmers want to have advantages over Mexico in NAFTA
Unlike most of the agricultural and grain industries in the United States, Florida's fruit and vegetable producers are pushing for advantages over Mexico, its partner in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The fifth round of negotiations to update the NAFTA will begin on Friday in Mexico and the agricultural issue could be one of the most difficult ones.
At the center of the dispute are the demands of Florida tomato growers, who say that Mexico is selling its vegetable production in the United States at artificially low prices.
Tomato producers, who have the support of some producers of strawberries, melons, and peppers, are pushing for more severe anti-dumping measures against the Mexican product, an idea that has been roundly rejected by Mexico.
"We all know or suspect how much Mexico has subsidized its producers at our expense," said Jack Payne, the executive director of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida, during a recent presentation on the future of the agricultural sector in the state.
Mike Stuart, president of the Fruit and Vegetable Association of Florida, which is one of the actors that has pushed authorities the most to take action in favor of American producers, said, during the expo, that it was about fundamental justice.
Mexican officials have said they will not consider an agreement to improve protections for seasonal producers, criticizing the proposals as arbitrary and against the interests of free trade.
Stuart acknowledged, however, that the biggest opponent to their proposals wan't Mexico, but the producers of the rest of the United States.
He said that it was difficult for Florida to succeed in their allegations if producers in California, for example, didn't feel they were being harmed by Mexican exports because they didn't harvest during winter.
The change proposed by Florida would establish an anti-dumping action if the damage is limited to the seasonal industry, as are most of the state's products.
Florida accounts for about 10% of the total production of fruits and vegetables in the United States.
In addition, almost all that production corresponds to the winter month when most of the Mexican farmers operate.
Producers in other states harvest during the summer and fall, when there is little competition from Mexico, Stuart said. So, according to him, most agricultural companies in the rest of the country have little interest in the problems that Florida faces.
Between 1993 -the year before the entry into force of NAFTA- and 2016, agricultural exports from the United States to Canada and Mexico increased by more than 400%, from 8.9 billion dollars to 38.1 billion dollars.
Mexico and Canada are now the main export markets for US staples, such as corn, soybeans, apples, and high fructose corn syrup.
That factor has generated strong support for the trade agreement between farmers and ranchers in the United States over the years, but also anxiety over the possibility that it could come to an end, acknowledged Chad Hart, an economist at Iowa State University.
Publication date: 11/20/2017
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