The United States International Trade Commission (ITC) is conducting a global safeguard investigation on imported fresh, chilled, or frozen blueberries, under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974, to determine if the increase in foreign berries posed a threat or caused substantial harm to US blueberry growers. Members of the American Alliance of Blueberry Growers (ABGA) provided information to ITC on the situation during a hearing on the impact that the increase in imports had on the country's production and harvest seasons.
"Due to booming domestic demand, we should be enjoying a market where there is room for both domestic and foreign growers to profit," said Jerome Crosby, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of ABGA and owner of Pineneedle Farms in Willacoochee, Georgia. "However, foreign government policies targeting the United States market and large corporate import interests have combined to bring massive volumes of blueberries into our market, increasingly during periods that in the past provided growers with the bulk of their revenues and often all of their profits for the year."
"The significant surge of Mexican imports during our harvest season has crippled Florida's blueberry industry and threatens its very existence," said Brittany Lee, the executive director of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association and owner of Florida Blue Farms. “Over the period 2009 to 2019, we saw imports from Mexico increase by 2,111 percent."
"Imports from Mexico and Peru, in particular, now enter our market throughout California's harvesting period. The prices of these imported berries are extremely low, which means that when we begin to sell our harvests, the price point has already deteriorated significantly due to the presence of large volumes of imported fruit in the market,” stated Jayson Scarborough, a Central California blueberry farmer.
The producers also said that the US blueberry industry had made extensive marketing efforts for many years to educate buyers and consumers about blueberries, which has increased demand. "Foreign growers are benefiting from those efforts, in some cases creating industries out of thin air and exploiting cheap labor and poor environmental regulation abroad," stated Rex Schultz of Heritage Blueberry in Bangor, Michigan, and Chairman of Michigan's Blueberry Advisor Committee.
Several members of Congress also testified before the ITC in support of the American blueberry growers.