The fight for our domestic food supply and the Southeastern American Farmers is ignored in the renegotiation of NAFTA, placing our local and state farming industry on the endangered species list, again.
In reaction to the recent lack of progress during the renegotiation of NAFTA to a fair solution for specialty crop producers in the southeast, Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association expressed his displeasure stating, “This is not the outcome we have worked for. However, the President has promised to help safeguard farmers, and we will continue working diligently and persistently with the administration on solutions to stop Mexico’s unfair trading practices and to help our fruit and vegetable industry survive.”
He continued, “For almost 20 years, Mexico’s unfair trading practices have taken their toll on producers in the southeast. Mexico swamps the U.S. market during our narrow marketing seasons at prices far below our production costs. What’s more, Mexico’s president-elect recently promised a significant increase in government subsidies to Mexican farmers to plant a million more hectares of fruit.” (one hectare equals 2.47 acres)
Further reaction came in a joint letter from Florida Senators Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R) to Robert Lighthizer, the United States Trade Representative, stating, “The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 includes eliminating practices that adversely affect trade in perishable or cyclical products, while improving import relief mechanisms to recognize the unique characteristics of perishable and cyclical agriculture….However, all indications point to this new agreement with Mexico not meeting these goals.”
“Mexican growers have used every trick in the book to get around U.S. trade rules, much at the expense of Florida growers, who are uniquely impacted by such behavior…. Florida is one of the few places in the U.S. that can produce warm-weather fruits and vegetables in the winter, forcing our growers to bear the brunt of Mexican trade abuse. Without just relief, Mexican producers will continue to drive our growers out of business and eventually take full control of the U.S. market during the winter. We must ensure that such an outcome does not occur.”
In a conversation with local farmer Paul DiMare he stated,” I’ve been fighting for the farmers since 1964. (This week's) NAFTA negotiations were no benefit to row crop farmers and no benefit at all to Florida farmers. The key is seasonality rights, the rights to sue for damages to stop dumping of crops in the market.”
What the cost of production in farming and manufacturing boils down to is the availability of affordable land and reasonable cost of labor. Mexico has both. Mexico has few industries of their own. The auto manufacturing industry in Mexico is actually American auto companies moving across the border for cheap labor costs to increase profits.
DiMare pointed out that Mexico is actually guilty of money manipulation on a scale equal to or greater than China. By devaluating the peso, U.S. exports to Mexico have gone down, furthering an increase in our already negative balance of trade.
DiMare clarified his point, “Doesn’t their devaluation do the same as placing tariffs on our exports?"
This is in agreement with an article written in 1997 by Robert A. Bleaker titled NAFTA AND THE PESO COLLAPSE: Not Just a Coincidence. It claims NAFTA has caused, “…a rising U.S. trade deficit with Mexico has meant a net loss of jobs in the United States, not a net gain, as predicted by NAFTA promoters."
Mexico is ramping up its farming industry, and similiar to South Florida, has a climate that can produce year round. They also have the ability to grow all year round in greenhouses due to a more moderate climate in certain areas coupled with cheap labor DiMare stressed his opinion that items produced in our country should be consumed or used here before competitive imports are allowed to enter. Tariffs should be placed on competitive products before they are allowed to be sold here. Free trade should be on items we do not produce at home. He feels this would greatly reduce the National Trade Deficit and bring the US back in control of its destiny.
We also spoke with Charles LaPradd who serves as Ag Liaison between Miami-Dade County and the farmers. LaPradd feels that some of the negotiating power for the farmers has been undermined by not being included in the new agreement. He also mentioned that many brokers and retail outlets benefit financially by the cheap prices of imports asking, “Do you really see the savings being passed on to the consumer at the grocery store?”
As for the Florida farmers LaPradd said, “They seem to be fighting alone since northern growers produce in different seasons due to weather, therefore, they do not feel a direct impact of Mexican production.” With that in mind, they choose not to get involved in a battle that does not interfere with their business.
Kern Carpenter, a prominent South Dade farmer whose concerns were highlighted in the SDNL’s last issue spoke on this week’s developments. “It’s a sad day in this country when our government decides that the Florida vegetable farmers, who feed our country for six months of the year are expendable. I am very disappointed in the outcome. One of the main reasons Trump was elected in Florida was his NAFTA renegotiation promises and the left us out. Anyone that had anything to do with this new agreement as far as Florida is concerned should be ashamed of themselves.” said Carpenter, “All of the Congressmen and Senators have done an excellent job of getting our message out there but the rest of the country is not understanding the importance of Florida farmers.”
The South Florida agriculture community continues to wait in hope of a favorable modification to NAFTA. As the next season begins many will roll the dice deciding how many acres to grow or not to grow of each type of crop.
Most in South Dade realize that if the NAFTA trade negotiators continue to ignore our concerns and allow Mexico to flood the market with cheap produce, South Dade will undoubtedly watch much of next season's crop rot unpicked in the Florida sunshine, unprofitable for our growers to harvest.