Section 201 Investigation Looking at Blueberry Industry as a Whole

Clint Thompson Berries, Top Posts

File photo shows highbush blueberries nearing harvest.

A central point of the federal agencies’ plan to investigate unfair trade practices is the focus on blueberries. The crop has been widely impacted by Mexican imports, which growers attest drove prices down this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The plan’s highlights include, the USTR (Office of the U.S. Trade Representative) will request the International Trade Commission to initiate a Section 201 global safeguard investigation into the extent to which increased imports of blueberries have caused serious injury to domestic blueberry growers. But the question is, what defines serious injury?

“That is going to be an interesting question, what the International Trade Commission views as serious injury,” said Adam Rabinowitz, Auburn University Assistant Professor and Extension economist.

He cautions Southeast blueberry growers that Section 201 will look at the blueberry industry as a whole, meaning across the country.

“They’re going to be looking at the entire industry, not just Southeast blueberry growers, but also those that are in Maine, Washington and other states where there is significant production. The question is, to what extent has the U.S. market for blueberries been harmed by imports? You start talking about Peru and Canada and other areas where there is significant blueberry imports coming into the U.S. Has any of that harmed domestic producers?”

The USTR will work with domestic producers to commence an investigation by the International Trade Commission to monitor and investigate imports of strawberries and bell peppers, which could enable an expedited Section 201 global safeguard investigation later this year.

“I think to really tell right now what’s going to happen on the strawberry and bell pepper side, we really need to see what happens on the blueberry side and what kind of response occurs,” Rabinowitz said. “That response from the International Trade Commission is a combination of how they look at those markets and determine and really define that serious injury and then what kind of remedies they can come up with.”

Section 201 allows the International Trade Commission to look at where domestic producers have been harmed by imports. They have to be seriously injured, meaning that level of injury to their marketing opportunities. It must be completed within 120 days after filing.