Specialty crop growers are more than ready to see changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). While certain agriculture industries have fared well from the agreement, such as potatoes, apples and cherries, specialty crops have not.
Established in 1994, NAFTA created free trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico. However, the United States specialty crop industry is finding it difficult to compete with cheap Mexican imports. Due to the low price of Mexican produce, U.S. specialty crop businesses are being forced out of business. Now, specialty crop growers in the Southeast are voicing their concerns about NAFTA.
On August 25, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue chaired an Agriculture and Rural Prosperity Task Force meeting in Georgia. The meeting allowed Georgia growers and industry leaders to voice their concerns and needs for their respective industries. Bill Brim, president of Lewis Taylor Farms, spoke for the specialty crop industry in the Southeast and how NAFTA has been hurting it.
Brim said that although industries out west have fared well from NAFTA, the Southeast has been suffering. “Here in the Southeast, all those (Mexican) products are coming in on top of us,” Brim said. Due to the overwhelming amount of Mexican produce coming across the border, the demand for American agricultural commodities has decreased, forcing farmers to sell their land or explore other industries.
Brim gave a few examples of crops in Georgia and Florida that are suffering from NAFTA. He mentioned the tomato industry in Florida, saying the industry is being “wrecked” by the excessive dumping coming from Mexico. “They’re supposed to be living up to a $10.35 price exchange across the border, but they’re not doing it. They’re finding ways to get around that,” Brim said.
In Georgia, Brim said NAFTA is killing the broccoli, bell pepper and tomato industries. “The Southeast is kind of in an area alone by ourselves and we’re getting hurt,” Brim said.
Ultimately, Brim would like the Southeast to be on the same playing field with everyone else involved in NAFTA, but he does not have a clear solution to this problem. He hopes through renegotiation meetings, the government can find a way to make the agreement fairer for all industries. He added that he hopes Secretary Perdue will be able to help the farmers who are suffering from this agreement. “I hope the secretary understands a lot of this … maybe he can help us either get some restrictions on imports or an anti-dumping law we could implement so we can file suits on them (Mexico) when they dump on us,” Brim concluded.
American, Canadian and Mexican trade representatives are still partaking in NAFTA renegotiation talks. As of right now, there is no telling what the solution will look like.
Although renegotiations are underway, President Trump is still candidly expressing his hatred of the agreement. During a rally in Arizona on August 22, Trump threatened to pull the United States out of NAFTA altogether, saying he does not think the three countries can make a deal without scrapping the agreement. This, in turn, creates more confusion for the U.S. agriculture industry, because farmers are unsure how NAFTA will turn out in the end.
The first round of renegotiation meetings has ended. Representatives will reconvene in Mexico in the coming weeks and then again in Canada.
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