After months of negotiations, the Florida agriculture community experienced an intense letdown late last month when a revised trade agreement with Mexico failed to address their concerns.
Specifically, Florida farmers were hoping the agreement would address complaints that the Mexican government has been “dumping” fresh produce into the U.S. market at prices below the cost of production.
Although both Nelson and Rubio lobbied U.S trade negotiators to include restrictions on some Mexican exports, that didn’t happen.
Undaunted, the two U.S. senators unveiled legislation on Wednesday to address Florida fruit and vegetable growers’ concerns about unfair trade practices.
The “Agricultural Trade Improvement Act of 2018” would allow Florida growers to bring trade cases with the Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission against Mexican growers if they can prove the dumping occurs seasonally rather than year-round.
Currently, the U.S. government doesn’t consider seasonal differences in the market when determining whether to impose sanctions.
Also under current rules, farmers can file dumping cases only after demonstrating damage to their entire industry across multiple growing seasons. The Nelson-Rubio bill would make it possible for smaller groups of producers to bring complaints.
While farmers growing strawberries and tomatoes in the Southeast have been hurt by competition from Mexico (which grows those products at the same time), growers on the West coast who haven’t been adversely affects by trade with Mexico do not share the same concerns as Florida farmers.
That’s why their Congressional representatives opposed the anti-dumping provisions sought by legislators from Florida and Georgia.
And that’s why the bill may have a hard time getting a majority of support in the U.S. Senate.
“Too many growers in Florida have been crippled by Mexican trade abuses,” Nelson said in a statement. “If the administration won’t fix this, Congress will.”
“We must do all we can to ensure a level playing field for Florida’s fruit and vegetable growers,” added Rubio.
“Absent a memorandum of understanding or suspension agreements with the Mexican government covering seasonal and perishable produce imports, I’m proud to support this bill with Senator Nelson to increase opportunities for Florida growers to successfully seek relief from the illegal dumping of Mexican winter produce into domestic markets.”
The bill was championed by the the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association, who said in a statement that the bill will provide “critically needed trade relief for specialty crop producers in Florida and the Southeast.”