Frustrated Florida vegetable and specialty crop farmers are calling for a 301 investigation into unfair trade practices concerning Mexican imports.
Dustin Grooms, a fourth-generation farmer in Plant City, Florida, made his case while testifying in a virtual hearing with the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office on Aug. 13.
“It goes back to what all the other growers are saying, at this time, I think we need to move forward with the 301 and start there and see where it leads to; see what happens and we can build upon that and get to a solution,” Grooms said.
What is a 301 Investigation?
Adam Rabinowitz, Auburn University as Assistant Professor and Extension Economist, explained that a 301 Investigation is part of the Trade Act of 1974 and allows the U.S. to engage in trade activity, whether it be trade agreements but also resolving trade disputes. The idea was that the U.S. could access foreign markets but also that domestic markets were not impacted.
An investigation could lead to the U.S. imposing trade sanctions such as tariffs which would increase prices of inexpensive Mexican imports, in particular the fruit and vegetable crops, that are difficult for Southeast producers to compete against and were reasons that hearings were necessary with Florida agriculture leaders and Georgia leaders on Aug. 20.
Grooms said the impact Mexico has had on his strawberry operation led to a significant drop in acreage of 125 acres, down from 235.
“Mexican imports have crippled our strawberry prices in Florida as well as other crops. This issue has continued for far too long without a solution. The seriousness of the seasonality issue has been recognized by Congress and the U.S. Government dating back to 2002 trade promotion authority legislation which instructed the U.S. Government to fix the problem,” Grooms said. “The same instruction was repeated in a 2015 TPA law and every administration over the past two decades has acknowledged the pressing need to get a solution in place. Yet, nearly 20 years later, farmers are still left defenseless against unfair Mexican trade practices.”
Grooms’ farming operation, ‘Fancy Farms,’ has had to sell off land to pay bills and have money to farm the following year. He made a passionate plea that change is needed and needed now.
“The future of Florida agriculture is at a pivotal point in time. We need change to be able to continue our legacy of farming from one generation to another,” Grooms said. “We can grow all kinds of foods here in Florida if we’re given the chance. But with the Mexican imports looming over us, I’m afraid the future of Florida’s agriculture fate might be destined for failure.”