Op-Ed - Let’s Protect our South Dade Growers from Unfair Trade Practices - South Dade News Leader: Opinion

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Op-Ed - Let’s Protect our South Dade Growers from Unfair Trade Practices

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Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2018 9:40 pm | Updated: 8:11 am, Wed Oct 10, 2018.

Last Sunday, the Administration submitted to Congress final text for its renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), or as President Trump prefers to call it USMCA (US-Mexico-Canada Agreement). The three countries are expected to sign the agreement by November 30th. Congress will then initiate its own process for considering the Administration’s signed agreement with Mexico and Canada sometime during the first half of 2019. Some provisions like digital commerce and environmental enforcements in the current agreement should be applauded, but some of the most contentious provisions like the sunset clause and auto rules of origin were certainly not what we were hoping for. In the initial phases of the renegotiation process, it seemed the Administration wanted to include a seasonality/perishable provision that would have provided our specialty crop growers in South Dade with the tools and protections they need to compete in a fair way. Unfortunately, they fell through on their promise to put Americans like specialty crop growers first.

When negotiations began, I knew the Florida delegation would need to work together to encourage the Administration to include the seasonality/perishable provision throughout the entire renegotiation process. Serving on the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade issues, allowed me to personally make the case for our community to Administration officials for the need to provide our specialty crop growers with a fair shot at competing against Mexico. I also led a number of bipartisan efforts urging the Administration and U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Lighthizer, to include the provision and consider the well-being of our South Florida growers who are being devastated by Mexico’s unfair and opaque subsidies and trade practices.

Despite the benefits NAFTA has generated for many other small businesses and consumers in North America, the deal has left specialty crop growers in South Florida with an unfair trade environment. According to the Florida & Fruit Vegetable Association, Florida is the second leading producing state for fruits and vegetables and the only domestic supplier in the winter months—with Mexico being our sole competitor. Since the early 2000s, most of the increase in Mexico’s agricultural exports to the U.S. has been in the specialty crop sector. Throughout that period, imports of Mexican strawberries have almost tripled, imports of Mexican bell peppers have grown by 163%, and imports of Mexican tomatoes have increased by about 2 billion pounds, causing U.S. fresh tomato production to lose almost 25% of total acreage. It is widely known that the Mexican specialty crop sector is competing unfairly with the help of subsidies, sales prices below costs of production, and substantially lower labor costs. There is no question that the quality of South Florida specialty crops can supersede Mexican products, but without a level playing field, they’re being left unable to compete.

Given the inevitable consequences of the Administration’s failure to secure the specialty crop provision in the final agreement, I decided Congress needs to step in. Together with Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, and my fellow House colleague Representative Al Lawson Jr., I introduced bicameral, bipartisan legislation that — if passed— would achieve the same results as the seasonality/perishable provision. Our Agricultural Trade Improvement Act of 2018 would amend the Tariff Act of 1930 and make it easier for our specialty crop growers to petition a trade remedy against Mexico’s injurious behavior and compete in a free and fair way. This legislation allows our South Florida growers to sell their specialty crops at fair and competitive prices in our domestic market and protects them from unfair trade

practices. Since the bill has the equal authority of a specialty/perishable provision in NAFTA, it would ensure our growers have a chance to compete.

I still hope the Administration will reconsider bringing back the specialty crop provision we’ve been fighting for the last year and a half — and I won’t stop fighting to remind them of it at every opportunity between now and when Congress initiates its process to consider the final deal. In the event we’re unsuccessful, I am ready to urge Congress to step in to protect our South Dade agriculture community. The Agricultural Trade Improvement Act is our battle cry, and I’m determine to make sure the Administration, the unfair competitors in Mexico, and my colleagues in the House and Senate hear us loud and clear.

Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R) represents FL-26 district

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