NAFTA Is a Problem for U.S. Specialty Crop Industry

Abigail Taylor Labor, Legislative, Top Posts

The House Agriculture Committee held a hearing in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, July 26, to listen to comments about renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and what those renegotiations could mean for different sectors of the U.S. agriculture industry. It is no secret that NAFTA has caused some mixed feelings from different U.S. farmers. Some have greatly benefitted from the agreement, such as grain and cattle farmers. However, the specialty crop industry has taken some huge hits due to stiff competition coming mainly from Mexican imports.

Reggie Brown, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, gave comments at the hearing while representing the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association. He stood up for the specialty crop industry, saying Mexico’s unfair trade practices are driving specialty crop farmers out of business.

Brown discussed southeastern tomatoes and how much the tomato is suffering because of NAFTA. According to Brown, when legislators started down the path of NAFTA a little over 20 years ago, the U.S. produced two of every three tomatoes sold in this country. Now, the U.S. produces only one of every three tomatoes sold in the country. Furthermore, the U.S. tomato industry has decreased by 42 percent and there has been a 25 percent reduction in tomato acreage on a national level. These hits have been consequences of NAFTA. “Tomatoes are an example of what’s going to happen to many specialty crops as they compete with Mexico,” Brown said in his comments.

Brown said Mexico continues to expand its specialty crop industry tremendously because its government is incentivizing it to do so. He also reminded the committee that Mexico has a great advantage when it comes to wage as well. “Wages in Mexico are approximately one-tenth of the wages in the U.S.,” Brown said. Therefore, labor availability is not an issue in Mexico as it is in the U.S., making expansion of acreage more feasible.

Brown discussed the expansion of acreage in Mexico in his comments as well. He said that in the past 16 years, Mexican strawberry imports have gone from 16 million pounds a year to 216 million pounds a year. This is because of the ever-growing strawberry acreage in Mexico and NAFTA, which allows Mexico to trade freely with the United States and Canada. This has put a damper on the United States’ strawberry industry though, which is why Brown is fighting for heavy renegotiations of NAFTA.

Brown spoke about the reality of the situation for U.S. specialty crop growers. He commented on the family farmers that are being forced out of business due to the unfair trade practices coming from Mexico. “Once those individuals are gone, they’ll never come back,” Brown said regarding the farmers who are losing their businesses. “When those family farms are sold and those businesses are broken up, there will be no capacity to grow those fruits and vegetables within the bounds of the United States of America.”

Brown recognized that the specialty crop industry is receiving some support from the administration though its decision to renegotiate NAFTA. However, concern remains for southeastern farmers, as well as specialty crop farmers nationwide who are also affected. Brown made it clear that the Southeast has a very competitive agriculture industry that is not opposed to fair trade with Mexico and Canada, but there need to be some restrictions to ensure that the fair trade is actually fair.

Hear his full comment:

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Abigail Taylor

Multi-media journalist for AgNet Media

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