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Cross-Border FreightNewsTrucking

Trump administration to investigate Mexican produce imports

Probe would look into what US growers call unfair trade practices

The Trump administration plans to investigate complaints from Florida and Georgia produce growers that Mexico’s import practices and government subsidies are giving Mexican growers an unfair trade advantage.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) released a plan to investigate how Mexican blueberries as well as potentially strawberries and bell peppers are imported.

The plan includes investigating alleged harm imported Mexican produce has caused U.S. growers. The findings could potentially open the door for tariffs.

“President Trump recognizes the challenges faced by American farmers and is committed to promoting and securing fair trade and a level playing field for all American producers,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in a release.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said the announcement by USTR was welcome news. 

“We are hopeful that [USTR’s] announcement signals a commitment from the administration to stand with Florida farmers and hold Mexico accountable for their unfair trade practices,” Fried said in a statement.

Earlier this year, 60 witnesses participated in virtual hearings hosted by the USTR and the U.S. Department of Commerce. The hearings also included more than 300 written testimonies. Most of the participants were farmers from Florida and Georgia, who were invited by the USTR to the hearings.

“Recent massive and heavily subsidized plantings in Mexico continue to threaten the livelihood of our Florida producers. From 2009 to 2019, Mexico’s U.S. market share of blueberries increased by 2,111%. By contrast, Florida’s market has decreased over the last several years. The culprit is one. It is Mexico’s millions of dollars in government subsidies that create artificially low prices for its produce,” wrote Brittany Lee, vice president of Gainesville, Florida-based Florida Blue Farms.

The investigation will be handled by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC). If the ITC finds Mexico’s trade practices give the country an unfair advantage, the president will decide what relief, if any, should be imposed.

“This relief could take the form of tariffs or quotas targeting foreign imports, either of which are almost certain to increase prices of the affected goods,” according to the USTR.

Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales, Arizona-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, said the complaints were based on an intentionally misleading propaganda campaign from Florida and Georgia growers “based on rhetoric without data that supports their claims.”

Ports of entry in Laredo and Pharr, Texas, along with Nogales, are where most fruits and vegetables from Mexico cross into the U.S.

“This politically motivated action directly undermines the new U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), positioning the U.S. as an unreliable trading partner despite any trade agreements they negotiate,” Jungmeyer said in a release. “Mexico is our largest trading partner. Sadly, partisan politics failed to consider the best interests of American farmers, American businesses, and American consumers who will likely see increased food costs and lower overall farm exports.”

The USMCA trade pact went into effect on July 1. The USTR did not provide a timeline for when it will make a ruling on imports of Mexican blueberries and other produce.

Mexican officials have indicated that if the U.S. puts tariffs on blueberries or other produce, they could also apply retaliatory tariffs on U.S. exports of meat and grains.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by Noi Mahoney.

More articles by Noi Mahoney

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Noi Mahoney

Noi Mahoney is a Texas-based journalist who covers cross-border trade, logistics and supply chains for FreightWaves. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in English in 1999. Mahoney has more than 20 years experience as journalist, working for newspapers in Florida, Maryland and Texas. Contact nmahoney@freightwaves.com

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