Many believe the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will come up for a vote in Congress before the end of the year. As you may know, USMCA is the new trade deal between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, that would replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). President Trump worked to renegotiate NAFTA due to the inequities and unfair trade discrepancies that existed in the agreement across many sectors of the U.S. These imbalances in NAFTA resulted in Americans across the country being laid off, shifts in manufacturing from the U.S. to Mexico, and shifts in much of the seasonal fruit and vegetable production from the U.S. to Mexico.
As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, and representing Florida’s Third Congressional District, I have seen the devastating effects NAFTA has had on our agricultural producers who have been denied adequate trade enforcement mechanisms. Fruit and vegetable farmers across the Southeast who grow their produce at the same time as Mexican growers have experienced growing losses every year since NAFTA took effect. According to the University of Florida, “concurrent with the increased Mexican imports, production of some fresh fruits and vegetables in Florida has declined. Between 2010 and 2018, the production value of tomatoes, strawberries and bell peppers decreased by 58 percent, 22 percent and 27 percent, respectively.”
As an illustration, prior to NAFTA’s enactment, U.S. farmers accounted for nearly 65 percent of the nation’s tomato supply and there were over 300 tomato farmers across the state of Florida. Now, 25 years later, our state has lost over 250 of its tomato farmers and U.S. tomato producers account for only 40 percent of the U.S. tomato supply. Farmers who grow green beans, squash, peppers, lettuce, strawberries blueberries, and other produce have experienced a similar decline in U.S. market share. Let’s be clear – our producers in Florida and across the southeast are not afraid of competition; these producers are willing and able to compete with producers around the world. However, foreign producers must price their produce fairly, meaning no unfair subsidies or dumping. This has not been the case under NAFTA.
In the ‘Summary of Objectives for the NAFTA Renegotiation’ that was released in November 2017 by the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the administration recognized the inequities our seasonal and perishable producers face with regards to unfair trade practices employed by other countries. Unfortunately, a meaningful solution to this problem was not included in the agreement that was signed last year. With low and stagnating agricultural commodity prices, and with many of our nation’s farmers struggling to stay in business, their children are making decisions now about whether to continue planting crops or transition to planting homes and condominiums. Our farmers are known for not just feeding America but a large part of the world. These unfair trade practices cannot be overlooked as we consider, and possibly enter into, a new trade agreement that would last for years. I’m concerned that if this issue is not addressed now, there will not be an opportunity to do so for quite some time. As a result, we will continue to see a decline in U.S. market share for U.S. seasonal and perishable produce grown by our farmers.
I commend President Trump and his administration for acting to address the ineffective 23-year-old Tomato Suspension Agreement with Mexico. The enforcement measures included in the new agreement will surely protect U.S. tomato producers from unfair trade practices they have endured for the last two decades. However, without strong trade mechanisms between the U.S. and Mexico to safeguard our farmers who produce other seasonal crops, their fate will be that of the tomato producers. Absent proper trade enforcement mechanisms, the future for Florida produce is grim.
I ask President Trump and his trade negotiators to make our nation’s southern farmers strong again as they continue their efforts to strengthen America. I appreciate the tough negotiations the Trump administration has done up-to-now. This seasonal produce issue must be addressed for my state of Florida, and other states that face the same issue before I can support it. The USMCA agreement must be fair and balanced for both countries to be successful. This agreement is about more than just autos, appliances, and furniture. It is about national food security. A nation that does not have food security is not a secure nation.
U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., was first elected to Congress in 2012.