By Bill Tomson
An unlikely pair of senators — Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Republican Jerry Moran of Kansas — is asking U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to be careful that his investigations into imports of blueberries and other produce from Mexico don’t result in a skirmish that disrupts trade flows that are already strained because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As the investigations continue, we ask you to recognize the importance of cross-border trade and consumer preference and urge you to not take any actions that would harm the significant economic benefit of the agricultural industry on the U.S. economy,” the two senators warned Lighthizer in a letter.
Lighthizer recently announced his agency has begun an official Section 201 investigation into claims that Mexican is exporting blueberries to the U.S. at unfair prices.
“Many family farms have become a casualty of rising imports and are being forced out of commercial production as other countries increase production to deliberately target the U.S. market,” said Brittany Lee, executive director of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association. “If something is not done, we will lose the blueberry industry in the United States.”
But Sinema and Moran argue that U.S. consumers rely on supplies from both U.S. and foreign farmers and that there is room for both on the U.S. market.
“For example, Mexico, Peru, Argentina, and Chile supply blueberries in the off-season, ensuring that American families have access to fresh berries even during the winter months, while allowing U.S. growers to respond to increased demand for other produce during that time of year,” the senators said in the letter to Lighthizer. “Filling in gaps of our robust domestic industry is important to ensure consumers have access to produce throughout the year.”
But that ideal relationship is not the reality, says, Jerome Crosby, a Georgia farmer and chairman of the American Blueberry Growers Alliance board of directors.
“Because of booming domestic demand, we should be enjoying a market in which there is room for both domestic and foreign growers to profit,” Crosby said. “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.”
But U.S. ag groups like the American Feed Industry Association, American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers and the North American Meat Institute argue that the investigations could upset the new trading relationship under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and result in new tariff coming from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“As our industry continues to recover from COVID-19-related market shocks and supply chain disruptions the last thing we can afford at this point is additional uncertainty and higher tariffs,” the farm groups said in a recent letter of their own to Lighthizer.