Oct 24, 2022
Advisory panel to look at Mexican exports to the U.S.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai is not pursuing an investigation into claims that Mexico was “export targeting” Florida farmers, but said she will “pursue avenues” to assist southeastern U.S. produce growers.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s (USTR) Office released a statement on the decision Oct. 23. Members of Florida’s Congressional delegation filed a Section 301 petition Sept. 8. The 301 statute requires a decision on whether to proceed with an investigation in 45 days.

The statute allows a private-sector advisory panel as a specific response to export targeting, according to the USTR’s statement.A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agriculture specialist inspects a shipment of green hot chile for pests and disease at the Columbus (New Mexico) port of entry. Photo: Chad Gerber/CBP

“Although USTR could not conclude in the 45-day statutory period that a formal 301 investigation would be effective and is not opening an investigation at this time, USTR is moving forward with an advisory panel, and USTR and USDA will work with the petitioners and producers to examine the issues raised in the petition and to consider any further actions that may be appropriate.”

A notice in the Federal Register will summarize the USTR’s response.

“The Biden Administration recognizes that Southeast producers have faced challenges, which have only intensified since Hurricane Ian made landfall earlier this month,” according to the statement. “… USTR and USDA will work with the advisory panel and members of Congress to develop possible administrative actions and legislation that would provide real benefits to this struggling industry. “

FFVA: A step in the right direction

The Florida Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association called the decision a “positive step toward securing trade relief for the Southeast produce industry” for spring and winter production periods.

“(The Office of the USTR) has made clear it recognizes the urgent need for immediate, effective and enforceable solutions, which we believe includes all trade relief options,” according to the FFVA statement. “We thank the administration for moving forward promptly with certain action steps related to Mexico’s export targeting practices and for engaging in other efforts to deliver effective trade relief.”

The FFVA and other groups thanked Florida’s bipartisan Congressional delegation, which petitioned the USTR for the 301 investigation.

USApple: ‘Innocent bystanders’ express relief

Jim Bair, present and CEO of the U.S. Apple Association, said the decision avoids tariffs on imported produce, which would likely be met with retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods exported to Mexico, including fresh apples.

“The inflationary impacts of fuel, fertilizer and labor costs have created strong headwinds for apple growers,” Bair said in the statement. “An investigation and pressure for relief in the form of tariffs would have, once again, painted a big target on U.S. apple growers in a battle where we’re innocent bystanders. We’ve been through that before and it was very painful.”

Mexico is the largest export market for U.S. apples, and the industry shipped $349 million worth of apples there in 2021, 45% more than the previous season.

“We acknowledge that other sectors of the fresh produce industry are facing their own difficult challenges, but the U.S. Trade Representative came to the correct conclusion, and we are thankful.”

Florida strawberry grateful for recognition of challenges

The Florida Strawberry Growers Association said although the USTR is not pursuing the Section 301 investigation, having an advisory panel is a “positive step towards addressing the immediate action needed by Florida’s farm families who have had to endure the unfair Mexican trade practices outlined in the in the Section 301 petition.”

Florida strawberry growers look forward to working with the USTR and the USDA “to fully examine the issues raised in the petition and reach common-sense solutions to ensure seasonal fresh produce remains the primary option for consumers around the country during our seasonal fresh produce windows.”

PHOTO: A U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agriculture specialist inspects a shipment of green hot chile for pests and disease at the Columbus (New Mexico) port of entry. Photo: Chad Gerber/CBP

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