Farmers in Florida will continue to go out of business if the U.S. government fails to provide critical trade relief to combat cheap Mexican produce imports flooding the market, Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association CEO Mike Stuart told members of the International Trade Commission on Thursday.
Stuart’s testimony in Washington, D.C., was part of the ITC’s investigation to assess the likely impact of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Under federal law, the trade commission must prepare a report that outlines the potential effects of the agreement on the U.S. economy as a whole and on specific industry sectors. According to FFVA, the USMCA does not include trade remedies that Southeastern produce growers need.
Also testifying on Thursday were Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Kenneth Parker, president of the Florida Strawberry Growers Association. Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black also spoke on the dire need for trade relief.
U.S. imports of Mexican tomatoes have tripled since 2000, Stuart said. During that time Florida tomato production has dropped by almost 50 percent. Mexican bell pepper shipments to the United States also have tripled since 2000, while U.S. production has declined by 35 percent.
"In less than two decades, unfair subsidies by the Mexican government for its fruit and vegetable producers have empowered that industry to overtake the U.S. market," the association stated. Citing a University of Florida study, Stuart said the Mexican government’s investments in protected agriculture – crops such as tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries and peppers -- have increased that industry by a multiple of 52 since 2000, putting extreme pressure on U.S. producers of those same crops.
“As Mexican fruits and vegetables have swamped our market from one year to the next, they have systematically decimated our prices and market shares,” Stuart said. “To a growing extent, the farmers in the Southeast are finding it impossible to keep pace with rising costs and are folding their tents.”
He urged the commission to consider those consequences in its final report on the impacts of the USMCA.
“No U.S. interest is served if the Southeast produce industry suffers further irrevocable decline under the USMCA’s watch,” Stuart said. “My colleagues and I therefore respectfully urge that the commission highlight in its forthcoming report, with as much priority as possible, that effective near-term relief has become a survival imperative for the Southeast industry.”