Proposed produce bill would hurt Arizona, limit Mexican trade

Every year, billions of pounds of fresh produce make its way into the United States from Mexico. For Arizona, this means nearly $5 billion in economic production as well as 33,000 local jobs. New legislation out of Florida may limit Mexican trade practices and protect U.S. produce growers. However, opponents of the proposed bill say it would actually end up hurting consumers.

The man behind the bill is Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who introduced the bill the first week of January alongside Florida Congressman Al Lawson and Congressman Vern Buchanan. The bill, titled the “Defending Domestic Produce Production Act,” would make it easier for U.S. growers to call on their government to investigate imported produce from Mexico that is being illegally subsidized. It will also protect against the possibility of produce that’s sold for less than the cost of production.

“It’s unfortunate that a small group of regional produce interests is attempting to tilt the rules of trade in its favor,” Border Trade Alliance President Ms. Britton Clarke said in a statement. “There is already a well-established system for domestic producers to rely on if they believe they’re being unfairly harmed by imports. This bill isn’t necessary.”

The BTA has strongly resisted so-called “seasonality” attempts by Florida tomato growers in previous legislation and opposed it during the negotiations of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

“Let’s be clear,” Ms. Clarke said. “This is not about unfair trade practices; it’s about certain interests seeking special treatment. Consumers have spoken, however. They prefer the ability to shop for quality, affordable produce throughout the year. We are confident that consumers’ voices will continue to be heard and that free trade will continue to be a central component of the U.S.-Mexico relationship.”

The bill is being looked at as only supplying help to Florida but here in Arizona, local produce leaders fear it could be bad for business.

If the bill is passed and put into implementation, Arizona could lose jobs in sales/marketing, warehousing, trucking/logistics and numerous support businesses like box and seed companies that have locations in southern Arizona,” Lance Jungmeyer, president of Fresh Produce Association of Americas, said. “We would see a reduction in competition, which leads to a reduction in varieties available on store shelves, and which leads to higher prices for consumers.”

It could also result in a freeze on produce coming across the border, causing a shortage in grocery stores in Arizona. Could you live without tomatoes or avocados for a while? This can help the growers in Mexico but would end up hurting the consumer for as long as it takes.

“Mexico is a huge importer of US apples, but there is a small regional industry in Chihuahua that would seek protection, which would reduce US exports of apples,” Jungmeyer said. “Nogales is the largest export point for US apples, by the way. So, a law like this would hurt Arizona coming and going.”

Last fall, President Trump met with Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and former Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), now called the USMCA. Provisions for the new bill proposed by Sen. Rubio and his Florida constituents were left out of the USMCA agreement because most producers on both sides of the border saw that more barriers to trade would cause more economic harm.

Nick Esquer

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