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Florida Farmers Still Hurting Even After New Trade Agreement With Mexico, Canada

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried says the new trade agreement between the U.S. and Mexico is allowing what she calls "unfair trade practices," which she says is hurting the state's farmers.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried says the new trade agreement between the U.S. and Mexico is allowing what she calls "unfair trade practices," which she says is hurting the state's farmers.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) was supposed to help U.S. farmers. But Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried says farmers in her state are still hurting. And the agreement isn't stopping Mexico from engaging in what she calls "unfair trade practices."

Bud Chiles runs Jubilee Orchards and grows blueberries in Tallahassee. Chiles says Mexico floods the market with lower-priced blueberries during the same window local growers need to sell their products. Chiles says the practice, called Dumping, has only gotten worse since the USMCA was enacted.

"Blueberry farmers are going out of business left and right," Chiles says.

According to a new report from the Florida Department of Agriculture, Florida has been losing its market share for certain seasonal produce, while Mexico's market share for those same products has been rising. Fried agrees that Mexico is dumping.

"They're smart, they're coming in, and they're underpricing products in the state of Florida at the same time as growing season," Fried says.

Fried says another unfair trade practice is subsides given to Mexican farmers by their government.

"The Mexican government is spending so much money to really decrease the overall cost to these farmers is what's creating—part of it is what's creating th[ese] unfair trade practices that are happening between Mexico and the United States," Fried says.

A 2019 University of Georgia paper says there's been a surge of subsidies by the Mexican government to pay for structures like greenhouses that protect crops from the elements. The paper says these structures allow the country's growers to expand their exports over a longer season.

"I certainly understand why our producers call Mexican subsidies to protected agriculture as unfair, University of Georgia professor Gopi Munisamy says. He researches agricultural policy and international trade.

The USMCA was supposed to give American farmers greater advantages, but it hasn't worked out that way. And Munisamy says proving that Mexico is unfairly undercutting American growers could be difficult.

"To assemble the data and figure out if it is Mexican prices that are making our life hard, or is it retailers choosing Mexican produce over American produce, you know, there are many questions in there," Munisamy says.

For people like John Walt Boatright with the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, there's hope in a piece of federal legislation refiled earlier this year that would make it easier for American farmers to bring cases before the International Trade Commission (ITC). Boatright says if these farmers can bring a case, they can allege Mexico engages in unfair trade practices.

"It's very difficult for a regional producer to bring a case to the ITC because, in order to do that, you have to have impacts of nationwide injury. And regional producers, it's very difficult for many of our commodities to breach that threshold because of that requirement," Boatright says.

Boatright says if the ITC rules that injuries are taking place due to unfair trade practices from Mexico, the commission could make recommendations to President Joe Biden.

"Whether its negotiations with the Mexican government or implementing some reforms for our producers," Boatright says.

In the meantime, Fried is trying to bring awareness to the losses Florida farmers are facing. The report from her department shows Florida farmers are losing 10 to 20% of their sales per year due to increased exports from Mexico. And she's urging Floridians to buy state-grown produce.

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