By John Haughey
The Center Square
September 5, 2021
Congressional representatives and state officials are stepping up efforts to shield Florida’s $12 billion seasonal crop industry from “unfair trade practices” after revelations that Mexican imports cost state farmers 10-20% in annual “lost” sales.
The Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (FDACS) this week released an 84-page report that documents how expanded Mexican imports annually cost Florida farmers up to $4 billion in “lost” sales, which “equates to between 17,870 to 35,741 Florida jobs lost.”
Imports of Mexican crops grew by 580% the last two decades, according to the report, which claims Florida’s market share for six crops – bell peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, sweet corn, watermelon – have diminished up to 75% while Mexico’s share more than doubled.
“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,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said Monday.
Fried said the state’s $137 billion agriculture industry and “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.”
Mexican imports have been growing exponentially under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed into law by former President Bill Clinton nearly a quarter century ago.
That pattern has continued, if not accelerated, under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement signed by President Donald Trump in January 2020, Fried said, adding Florida loses up to $88 million yearly in tax revenues from “lost” produce sales.
Fried, Florida’s only statewide-elected Democrat and among candidates seeking to challenge incumbent Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022, said the state’s Congressional delegation is doing its part to get the issue federal attention.
“The good news is we are seeing growing support among federal lawmakers demanding effective and timely relief,” she said. “In addition to unanimous, bipartisan support from Florida’s congressional delegation, we have seen senators and members from Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Washington also join this fight.”
Florida’s 16 Congressional Republicans and 11 Congressional Democrats – including the late-U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings who passed away in April – have written separate letters calling on U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) Secretary Lisa Barton to investigate how Mexico’s trade policies hurt Florida strawberry and bell pepper growers.
In June, Florida’s delegation and two Republican U.S. Sens., Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, reintroduced a languishing bill to protect specialty domestic crop growers.
The Defending Domestic Produce Production Act seeks to “combat unfair trade practices by countries like Mexico” and “ensure U.S. trade law is applicable to seasonal fruit and vegetable growers.”
Rubio is sponsoring the Senate bill, which is before the Senate Finance Committee.
“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. “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.”
U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, and Al Lawson, D-Jacksonville, are co-sponsoring the House version, which has been forwarded to the House Ways & Means Committee.
“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.”