With the Trump administration continuing renegotiations of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), members of the Florida congressional delegation are urging they include more protection for the state’s agriculture community.
From his perch on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, last week U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., rounded up most members of the Florida delegation to send a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer urging him to look out for farmers in the Sunshine State.
The representatives praised the “new rules for seasonal and perishable products” proposed by the Trump administration, insisting they “will ensure that these producers, who can only sell during certain periods of the year and are especially vulnerable to trade surges, have recourse to viable trade remedies when faced with unfair trade practices.”
“We applaud the administration’s support for U.S. perishable and seasonal sectors and stand ready to work with the administration on improving trade remedy coverage for these sectors,” the representatives wrote.
At the end of last month, Bloomberg reported that Florida farmers are increasingly fed up with NAFTA as Mexico is able to offer cheaper fruits and vegetables under the agreement.
“Increasingly...the fruits and vegetables Americans buy come from Mexico, not Florida,” Alan Bjerga from Bloomberg reported. “While annual U.S. tomato consumption has risen 61 percent since 1994, to 6.9 billion pounds, domestic production has fallen 11 percent, to 3.2 billion pounds, according to government data. Meanwhile, Mexican tomato imports have quadrupled, to 3.57 billion pounds, and strawberry imports have risen sixfold, to 568 million pounds. This has led to a rash of fruit and vegetable farm bankruptcies across Florida.”
Dunn rounded up most of the Florida delegation as Republican U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Carlos Curbelo, Ron DeSantis, Mario Diaz-Balart, Brian Mast, Bill Posey, Francis Rooney, Tom Rooney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Dennis Ross, John Rutherford, Dan Webster and Ted Yoho and Democrats U.S. Reps. Charlie Crist, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto signed the letter.
Florida’s two U.S. senators--Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio--have also written to Lighthizer on the matter.
“As you prepare for the next round of NAFTA negotiations in Mexico City at the end of the week, we urge you to formally propose a NAFTA fix that would allow regional growers to use seasonal data for antidumping and countervailing duty (AD/CVD) cases,” the senators wrote Lighthizer on Thursday. “It is critically important that NAFTA provide a fair and equitable market for U.S. fruit and vegetable growers. To this end, we are hopeful the Administration will use all means available to prevent Mexico from targeting regional growers in an effort to monopolize the U.S. market during certain seasons.”
Rubio followed up with another letter to Lighthizer on Friday informing him his vote “hinges on greatly improving NAFTA, including by defending Florida agriculture from unfair trade practices, encouraging free digital trade, streamlining and simplifying trade and customs procedures, protecting intellectual property rights, promoting transparency and fair competition, preserving effective dispute settlement processes while reforming or repealing broken dispute settlement mechanisms, and serving as a model for promoting freedom, human rights, and good governance norms throughout the Western Hemisphere.”
“To secure a successful future for all Americans, it is vital that a renegotiated NAFTA advances the interests of those, like Florida’s dedicated farmers and hardworking small business owners, who found themselves left behind by the agreement’s previous deficiencies,” Rubio wrote. “I urge you to seize this moment to create a forward-looking, equitable, and reciprocally beneficial NAFTA that deepens valuable trade ties across the continent while growing economic opportunities at home. The extent to which the priorities outlined above are achieved will determine my support during Senate consideration of any final agreement, and I look forward to further consultation and cooperation on these issues as NAFTA renegotiations proceed.”
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