Georgia produce farmers fight for survival
TIFTON Ga. (WALB) - Fruit and vegetable farmers in Georgia and throughout the Southeast are fighting for their “very survival” because of a flood of imported produce from Mexico and from what farmers call unfair trade practices.
In response, the federal government says it is creating an “inter-agency working group” to review the trade practices and monitor the situation, coordinate responses, and provide “technical assistance” to Congress in “developing legislation on this issue.”
A “Report on Seasonal and Perishable Production in U.S. Commerce,” issued last week by the Department of Commerce, the U.S. trade representative’s office, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was in response to a federal hearing in August during which officials and farmers from Georgia and Florida testified that Mexican trade policies are killing U.S. farmers.
Bill Brim, co-owner and CEO of Lewis Taylor Farms in Tifton, testified that “despite our 71‐year history, and despite the support of our dedicated employees, our future is in serious jeopardy. Quickly rising imports, primarily from Mexico, are on the verge of putting us out of business.… We are barely holding on today.”
Brim produces a variety of fruits and vegetables on 6,500 acres. He told the Tifton Grapevine on Tuesday that, “We here in the Southeast are harder hit by the influence of product being sent in and (other countries) dumping product … when we are in season.”
Georgia’s produce farmers had hoped for additional trade remedies in the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) forged late last year, but no new protections for produce were included.
Before the USMCA was finalized, the University of Georgia issued a report noting that the agreement could “cause extensive economic damage to Georgia” and its fresh produce industry.
“While the deal may be an overall positive for the United States, it exposes U.S. fruit and vegetable growers to a high risk of substantial harm through unfair competition from Mexican imports,” the UGA report said, noting the potential for “catastrophic damage” to Georgia growers, including annual economic losses of nearly $900 million.
According to the federal government’s inter-agency report last week, “In 1993, the United States imported approximately $1.2 billion of fresh fruits and vegetables from Mexico. By 2019, imports had increased 1,025 percent to $13.5 billion.”
Congressman Austin Scott, R-Tifton, in a recent statement, said that “For too long, countries like Mexico have taken advantage of loopholes in our trade agreements and flooded our domestic markets with cheap, government-subsidized produce at prices below the cost of production, causing serious financial injury to American growers.”
Government action isn’t enough, Scott said, calling on American retailers to help.
“America’s grocery retailers are posting record profits while American farm revenues are at record lows. Retailers have the responsibility to stop stocking products from countries that engage in unfair trade practices against the American farm family.”
Agriculture is Georgia’s largest industry and has a total economic impact of approximately $76 billion.
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