Paul Allen, president of R.C. Hatton Farms in Belle Glade, Florida and chairman of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, believes the outcome of the upcoming virtual hearings about unfair trade practices with the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office could have significant ramifications come November.
“This administration better realize that the American people are very well aware of this Florida deal. They need to think hard about it. You’re in an election year, and it isn’t just the people in Florida, it’s people all over this country are aware of this deal,” said a frustrated Allen, referring to the competitive imbalance with Mexican imports. “They’ve been made aware of it through the pandemic. I think the administration needs to be real careful about what they’re doing here. They need to help the Florida farmer, and I think it could probably assure another term, to be honest with you. If not, I don’t know.”
The hearings, scheduled for Aug. 13 and Aug. 20, will allow the U.S. Department of Commerce and Trump Administration the chance to hear from seasonal produce growers in Florida and Georgia. Farmers such as Allen and Georgia producer Bill Brim are pleading for federal action to be taken regarding unfair trade, specifically with respect to Mexican imports.
“I think we’ve got to challenge this administration to realize this is bigger than just push and pull. This is about national security. In World War II our country understood what that was about, they didn’t require farmers to go into the draft. They understood the importance of being able to feed our country. Our government needs to be reminded of that,” Allen said. “The fact that the Mexican administration is putting out such a big to-do about it, a big fight, shows you how important it is. They know it’s going to put the Florida farmers out of business. That’s why they’re really reacting strong to the fact that we’re even considering doing something different.”
The reality of unfair trade was especially harsh this year against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic. Farmers disposed of harvested produce just because there wasn’t a market, while Mexican produce was constantly being brought into the country.
“This pandemic when it came last March and April, we asked the government to pull a force majeure on the trade deal because of what was going on. We were destroying food. They wouldn’t do it. We begged them and begged them, had our representatives call but they wouldn’t close the border down, and we just kept destroying food,” Allen said. “We put a cry out to the American people, and the American people started supporting us and started doing what they could to buy American food and not food from other countries. It really bailed us out and helped us.”
Allen is hopeful and confident these hearings will lead to real change.
“We’re farmers, we’re people of faith. We’ve got to believe, and we’ve got to think positive,” Allen said. “I’m not thinking we’re wasting our time.
Additional information on USTR field hearing dates, deadlines, and submission instructions can be found in the Federal Register notice.