Florida and Georgia Producers Call for Tariff ActionBy Jan Hogewoning | Tue, 08/25/2020 - 14:56
On Aug. 13, Florida growers and southern lawmakers addressed representatives of the US Trade Representative office (USTR) in a virtual meeting regarding concerns on the impact of Mexican products on the competitiveness of Florida’s produce. These concerns are not new and during the USMCA negotiations, several lawmakers, including senator Marco Rubio of Florida, pushed for provisions to be included which would make it easier for US farmers of specialty crops to make anti-dumping and countervailing claims against Mexican producers. At the time, any inclusion of such provisions was abandoned after Mexican negotiators refused flat out, agricultural news platform Perishable News states. This time, growers and lawmakers are pushing US officials to invoke Section 301 tariffs on Mexican specialty crops. They lament “unfair subsidies, unfair trade-distorting practices, national security and unfair labor issues,” according to Perishable News.
On Thursday, Georgian producers and lawmakers will have the opportunity to address the USTR’s office during another virtual meeting. Some of the primary complaints ahead of the meeting are coming from pecan and blueberry producers. “If you eat a pecan product here in America, there is a 75 percent chance that it is Mexican,” Lanair Worsham, Owner of Worsham pecan farms and a member of the Georgia Pecan Commission, told agricultural news outlet Agri Pulse. “We feel we are at a competitive disadvantage against Mexico,” said Joseph Cornelius, who own a conglomeration of blueberry farms in Georgia. He stresses, Agri Pulse writes: "that labor costs in Mexico are extremely low, sometimes roughly just US$1 an hour, while he pays his employees between US$15 and US$20 an hour." Competition only seems to be exerting more pressure over the years. The number of blueberries exported to the US from Mexico has risen from approximately 2.72 million kg in 2013 to an expected 22.7 million kg today, Agri Pulse writes.
Arizona-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, a group that is known to lobby against tariffs, warns of the risks that actions Florida and Georgia producers are asking for might entail. “Consumers would pay more for strawberries, blueberries, bell peppers, tomatoes, sweet corn and watermelon if tariffs or quotas are put on these items through a 301 trariff action as requested today by the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association,” the association is stated as saying on Perishable News. It continues, asserting: “Florida and Georgia speakers did not present concrete, verifiable examples of their claims.” If tariffs would be invoked by the US government on seasonal produce, it could lead to “numerous and unending ‘tit for tat’ trade wars that could imperil more than US$40 billion in US agricultural exports to Mexico.” These kinds of tit-for-tat tariff punishments are not new and have happened in the years shortly preceding the USMCA agreement, a dynamic that the new trade treaty should have limited.
It is important to point out that the USMCA agreement does in fact contain clauses which allow actions against companies that are considered deficient in provision of adequate labor standards. The agreement offers a rapid response mechanism that stipulates how parties could act. Nonetheless, low wages do not necessarily equate substandard labor conditions. This would have to include informal or non-existent contracts, or forced labor conditions.