The Trump administration announced this week that it will seek talks with Mexican officials within the next 90 days to address concerns by U.S. producers that they are being hurt by strawberries, bell peppers and other seasonal and perishable products imported from south of the border.
In addition, the United States Trade Representative said it will ask the U.S. International Trade Commission to conduct a so-called Section 201 investigation “into the extent to which increased imports of blueberries have caused serious injury to domestic blueberry growers,” and to also investigate imports of strawberries and bell peppers for another possible Section 201 investigation involving those products later this year.
The moves have potentially significant ramifications in Nogales.
Across Arizona, about $20 million of strawberries, $44 million of blueberries and $297 million of bell peppers were imported in the first seven months of in 2020, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The vast majority of produce imported into the state comes through Nogales’ Mariposa Port of Entry.
The Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, a trade association representing more than 120 local importers of fresh produce from Mexico, blasted the decision to investigate, calling it a “politically motivated action (that) directly undermines the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada-Agreement.”
The FPAA warned that Section 201 investigations “would impose costly tariffs on seasonal produce, would raise consumer prices, and would launch numerous and unending ‘tit-for-tat’ trade wars that could imperil nearly $20 billion in U.S. agricultural exports to Mexico, as well as U.S. global agriculture exports which totaled $140 billion in 2018.”
For their part, growers in the southeastern United States have asked for the government’s help as they try to compete with Mexican counterparts who don’t face the same regulatory oversight or wage requirements that they do. During a virtual hearing last month, U.S. Rep. Austin Scott of Georgia said low-cost Mexican imports had made it “nearly impossible for American producers to compete,” according to a report by Atlanta NPR affiliate WABE.
Mexican growers and the local produce import sector have faced ongoing challenges from southeastern farmers in recent years. After complaints from Florida tomato growers that Mexican producers were “dumping” their product in the U.S. market at unfairly low prices, the U.S. government launched an investigation and ultimately terminated its tomato pricing agreement with Mexico in May 2019.
It was replaced by a new agreement that raised the minimum prices for imported tomatoes and tightened inspections, much to the chagrin of importers in Nogales, a major entry point for Mexican tomatoes into the U.S.market.