By Clint Thompson
Imports are no longer a Southeast issue. They are quickly becoming a national issue.
Unfortunately, the rising tide of imports of fresh fruits and vegetables impacting other parts of the country may be a necessary step in resolving this growing problem.
“Certainly, Georgia has been in this fight with us for a long time and have done a great job with us. Now we’re starting to see asparagus growers in Michigan. We’re starting to see growers in New Jersey and other places,” Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association (FFVA) President Mike Joyner said. “You hate to see it, we really do, but it does help. Now, instead of a piece of legislation in Congress that may have Florida and Georgia congressional members on it, now we’re seeing members from five, six, seven, eight other states. That concern is growing. We hate to see it, but we sure do need the help.”
In the past year, Florida and Georgia growers, industry and Congressional leaders have testified before the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) about the negative impact that imports are having on blueberries, cucumbers and squash.
The USITC voted unanimously in February that imports of fresh, chilled or frozen blueberries are not a serious injury to the domestic industry. The decision was made despite staggering statistical evidence of how the rise of imports in previous years has driven down prices for such growers in Florida and Georgia.
The USITC expects to transmit both of its reports on cucumbers and squash to the U.S. Trade Representative no later than Dec. 7.
“We don’t see it slowing down. In fact, during the pandemic, it only got worse,” Joyner said. “They opened that faucet up a little bit more and we don’t see them closing it anytime soon. One of my purposes (at the Expo) was to educate some folks and we’ve got to continue to keep this front and center in front of elected officials.
“We have a tendency to focus on tomatoes, bell peppers, strawberries, squash and cucumbers, but you can throw sweet corn into that mix. You can throw watermelons in that mix. The Department of Agriculture in Florida did a study and I think they looked at 29 different commodities. Of those 29, 21 are moving at a very wrong direction.”
The U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) has also instituted two monitoring fact-finding investigations on U.S. imports of fresh or chilled strawberries and bell peppers.