Florida Agriculture Department: Expanded Mexican Imports Making Florida Farmers Lose $2-$4 Billion

This week, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) released a report “showing 10-20 percent in annual lost sales of Florida seasonal producers because of expanded Mexican imports, resulting in an overall economic impact of $1.99 to $3.99 billion” which “equates to between 17,870 to 35,741 Florida jobs lost.”

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried unveiled the report on Monday.

“With agriculture as Florida’s second-largest industry, these unfair foreign trade practices and their devastating economic impact should be of grave concern to every single Floridian. In fact, this report found an economic impact of nearly $4 billion to our state overall due to increased Mexican imports, causing tens of thousands of Florida jobs to be lost,” said Fried.

“We know the best produce is ‘Fresh from Florida,’ thanks to the best farmers, with agriculture an $137 billion industry in our state. Our Florida farmers are used to weathering challenges – from hurricanes to invasive species – and they are used to competition. But they need timely and effective relief from the federal government to level the playing field, because right now, we know Mexico and others are not fighting fair,” Fried added.

Fried and most of the Florida delegation on Capitol Hill have been warning about Mexico’s unfair trade practices and their impact on farmers in the Sunshine State in recent years.

At the start of the year, members of the Florida congressional delegation sent letters to Lisa Barton, the secretary to the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), on Mexico’s agricultural trade practices, accusing them of being unfair.

Republicans in the Florida delegation sent a letter to Barton on the matter. Democrats representing the Sunshine State also sent Barton a letter on it.

Florida’s two U.S. senators—Republicans Marco Rubio and Rick Scott–were joined by Florida Republican U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Kat Cammack, Mario Diaz-Balart, Byron Donalds, Neal Dunn, Scott Franklin, Matt Gaetz, Carlos Giminez, Brian Mast, Bill Posey, John Rutherford, Maria Elvira Salazar, Greg Steube, Michael Waltz and Dan Webster. In the letter, the Florida Republicans called for the ITC to investigate how Mexico’s trade policies are hurting strawberry and bell pepper growers in the Sunshine State. Also in January, Democrats in the Florida delegation also wrote Barton on the matter, asking the ITC to investigate Mexico’s trade policies and how they are impacting strawberry and bell pepper growers in the state. Then U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., led the letter which was also signed by Florida Democratic U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val Demings, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson. Hastings passed away in April.

At the start of May, Rubio, Diaz-Balart, Lawson and Soto led almost 40 members of Congress in a letter to Tai urging her to work with members of Congress to implement immediate trade relief measures that safeguard American producers of seasonal and perishable fruits and vegetables against unfair foreign competition. Fried threw her support behind the letter.

In June, members of the Florida delegation on Capitol Hill–Rubio and Scott in the Senate and Buchanan and Lawson in the House–brought back a bill to protect specialty crop growers from competition from Mexico.

In recent years, the Florida delegation has been pushing the “Defending Domestic Produce Production Act,” a proposal which would “combat unfair trade practices by countries like Mexico” and “would ensure that U.S. trade law is applicable to seasonal fruit and vegetable growers to petition the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission in order to secure relief from unfair trade practices.”

“Current law requires petitioners to demonstrate harm as measured from a nationwide and year-round perspective, which by definition precludes the recognition of regional and seasonal fruit and vegetable industries. The Defending Domestic Produce Production Act would fix this oversight in U.S. trade law, and acknowledge the unique circumstances of seasonal fruit and vegetable producers,” Rubio’s office noted.

“We must ensure the viability of Florida’s fruit and vegetable growers, who for years have struggled to compete with dumped and unfairly priced Mexican imports,” Rubio said when he brought the bill back in June. “I firmly believe that food security is national security, and that to ensure our nation’s food security we must defend our food producers from malicious trade practices that are intended to undermine our self-reliance.”

“Florida’s seasonal produce growers work incredibly hard to succeed and support their families, but they’ve been faced with hardship amid the pandemic and unfair competition from Mexico,” Scott said. “This legislation will help defend and protect our hardworking domestic growers from the impacts of these unfair trade practices and support their continued success.”

“Illegal seasonal dumping and unfair Mexican trade practices are crippling Florida’s fruit and vegetable growers,” Buchanan said. “It’s time to level the playing field and protect hardworking Florida farmers. Our bill would do just that.”

“Mexico’s dumping into our nation’s agriculture market is a problem, and below-cost produce has put Florida’s farmers at a disadvantage,” Lawson said. “This issue is crippling our state’s agriculture industry and threatening its place as one of the top agricultural producers in the country. The Defending Domestic Produce Production Act will work to protect Florida’s farmers and make sure they have a fair chance in the marketplace.”

Rubio’s bill was sent to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. Buchanan’s bill has more than 30 sponsors, including more than 20 other members of the Florida delegation besides Lawson. The legislation was sent to the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee.

Almost 100,000 residents of the Sunshine State work in agriculture, adding more than $12 billion a year to Florida’s economy.

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com

KEVIN DERBY
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