On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla.. testified at a hearing on Mexican trade practices, which he called unfair, with the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). Steube led a letter to USTR Robert Lighthizer calling for this hearing back in July.
“For too long, Florida farmers of fresh produce have suffered from Mexico’s unreasonable trade-distorting practices,” Steube said. “Seasonal produce is vital to the state of Florida, which ranks as the largest producer of many seasonal and perishable products in the country. The Florida fruit and vegetable industry is especially vital to the health of my Congressional District, and I am proud to represent the largest citrus-producing district in the nation and many other growers of nutritious, seasonal produce.”
Among the topics discussed were Mexico’s unfair trade practices and subsidy policies and a potential investigation into Mexico’s trade practices.
Steube’s full remarks can be found below.
My name is William Gregory Steube, and I represent Florida’s 17th Congressional District, an area that represents many of Florida’s fruit and vegetable producers. Thank you for taking the time to hear the background and information on a crucial issue that deeply affects all Americans.
As you know, the entire Florida delegation signed a letter in July led by my office which requested that your agency hold these hearings and continue addressing the unfair Mexican trade practices that have severely harmed the Florida produce industry for the last twenty years. I greatly appreciate USTR’s commitment to addressing the issue and urge USTR to take actions immediately that will provide a sustainable long-term solution.
Seasonal produce is vital to the state of Florida, which ranks as the largest producer of many seasonal and perishable products in the country. The Florida fruit and vegetable industry is especially vital to the health of my Congressional District, as I am proud to represent the largest citrus-producing district in the nation and many other growers of nutritious, seasonal produce.
Although our state produces many of the same crops as Mexico, the imbalance of the market landscape continues as unending stream of Mexican produce floods our U.S. markets at prices and in volumes that Florida farmers simply can’t compete with.
For too long, Florida farmers of fresh produce have suffered from Mexico’s unreasonable, trade distorting practices. Over the past ten years, for example, Mexico increased imports to the U.S. by 551%, creating disproportionately hard-hitting impacts for Florida.
From 2000-2019, we lost upwards of $200 million in tax revenue for our state’s economy, and $1.1- $.2 billion in sales, and nearly 40,000 Floridian jobs as a result of the Florida produce industry’s dwindling market share.
Of course, as you know, this hasn’t been earned fairly. Mexico’s government heavily subsidizes virtually all aspects of its specialty crop production, amounting to an average of $200 million per year.
Program subsidies continue to surge aggressively each year. As a result, produce is priced artificially low and floods the market during the same market window for Florida growers. Because of this, Mexico is now the largest exporter of fruits and vegetables to the U.S. market during Florida’s winter growing season.
This has given some Florida farmers no choice but to shut down, since there is no trade mechanism available to combat these unreasonable practices that are systematically taking over U.S. markets. If we lose Florida farmers, the U.S. could be forced to rely solely on foreign produce imports to feed Americans during the fall, winter, and spring months.
With the increase of Mexican imports seen during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Florida industry’s level of concern and frustration over Mexico’s unfair fruit and vegetable practices is at an all-time high. From January through April of this year, when so many of our Florida growers were forced to plow their crops under, the Mexican produce industry continued to increase its U.S. market share by 17 percent versus the same period of 2019, and often at record-low prices. With Mexico’s unfair trade practices in this industry continuing at a rapid pace, our Florida growers are counting on your plan to give them relief and hope for the future of their business.
A timely trade remedy is needed to help save our produce sectors in Florida and the larger Southeast, and Florida farmers deserve the right to fair trade like other U.S. sectors of the economy. I appreciate your candor and willingness to hear our concerns regarding the survival of this great American industry, which is so vital to our nation’s food supply and economy.
I respectfully urge the USTR to investigate Mexico’s unfair trade practices and subsidy policies under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, or consider other remedies that will give Florida farmers the ability to fairly compete in their own marketplace.
Thank you again for holding this hearing today and I yield my time.