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Trump’s USMCA a path to perdition for American produce farmers

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Twenty-five years ago, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was ratified, ushering in a new era of streamlined trade among the United States, Mexico and Canada. Surely all those involved in the agreement shared a vision in which all three nations saw economic prosperity.

As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. And for many American farmers, NAFTA has been a path to perdition.

For years, Southeastern U.S. growers of fresh, seasonal produce have struggled as Mexican growers swamp the American market every winter with cheap produce, thanks to NAFTA’s elimination of trade barriers. In the past eight years alone, imports of strawberries, blueberries, bell peppers, and tomatoes have increased by 33 percent — an increase that comes directly at the expense of American agriculture.

The value of those Mexican imported crops surged 74 percent in that time, taking $1.6 billion out of the pockets of our farmers. Unfortunately, NAFTA has done nothing to stop the bleeding for American growers — and President Trump’s proposed United States-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement would let the problem become worse.

Why? Because the USMCA lacks any meaningful protections to stop the unfair trade practices that are devastating our seasonal produce industry. Despite these disadvantages, Florida ranks No. 1 in the nation for tomatoes, watermelons and cucumbers — but the USMCA would allow NAFTA’s same unfair advantages to continue.

The USMCA was a bad deal when introduced, and remains a bad deal now — until protections and remedies for our seasonal fruit and vegetable producers are put in place.

This is evidenced by a new study from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. Should the USMCA take effect as currently written, without action from the administration or Congress to protect America’s seasonal produce industry, the results would be devastating for Southeastern farmers. In Florida alone, nearly 8,000 farm jobs could be lost – livelihoods and family incomes that aren’t just numbers on a balance sheet.

The USMCA’s numbers don’t add up for American agriculture: up to $389 million in farm losses (including $180 million lost for strawberry growers, and $171 million for tomato farmers), $271 million in lost labor income, and $70 million in lost federal, state and local tax revenue — all just in Florida.

The president and his allies in Washington are continuing to push the USMCA forward at any cost. Let me be clear — there will be a cost, and it will be paid by America’s seasonal produce growers. And they expect some necessary solutions to ensure their very survival.

Fortunately, such a commonsense solution exists: the Defending Domestic Produce Production Act (S.16 and H.R.101), sponsored by the four Republican U.S. senators from Georgia and Florida, and co-sponsored by over 30 bipartisan members of Florida’s and Georgia’s congressional delegations. This legislation will allow American farmers to push federal regulators to investigate Mexican seasonal dumping of fruits and vegetables, as well as Mexico’s illegal crop subsidies.

It will do what the USMCA, like NAFTA before it, should have done – provide a level playing field for southeastern U.S. farmers simply asking to sell their best-in-the-world produce in a fairly priced, competitive marketplace.

Regardless of whether Congress ultimately approves the USMCA, they must pass this commonsense, bipartisan legislation.

The trade war over fresh produce should be a reminder to all Americans — the food we enjoy is grown by real people, and comes at a real cost with real jobs at stake. That food comes from the farms of hardworking family businesses with generations of history behind them.

That’s an important reason why consumers across the country should always look for the “Fresh From Florida” logo when selecting produce in their grocery store. And it’s also why they should hold the president and Congress accountable for supporting America’s agricultural producers.

Fruit and vegetable farming supports 90,000 jobs and adds over $6 billion to Florida’s economy, with thousands more jobs in Georgia and other southeastern states. If President Trump is serious about putting America first, he should start by putting those farmers first — and by putting an end to the unfair, unethical, and illegal trade practices Mexico has taken advantage of for years.

Until then, Mexico will continue eating our lunch on trade — and it won’t be American-grown.

Nicole “Nikki” Fried, a Democrat, is Florida’s 12th Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Follow her on Twitter @nikkifried

Tags Canada Donald Trump farmers Florida Georgia International trade Mexico North American Free Trade Agreement Produce Southeast United States United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement

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