Florida produce growers say new NAFTA does little to help them

'Wake up and help us out'
Posted at 8:37 AM, May 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-29 08:47:53-04

Congress is expected to soon consider approval of the new US-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The deal was brokered between the three nations as a more modern replacement to the North American Free Trade Agreement — better known as NAFTA.

President Trump told reporters Monday he’ll work with congressional Democrats on the deal and he expects House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would back it. Democrats want the deal to include stronger enforcement provisions, among other possible changes.

However, many of Florida’s fruit and veggie farmers say the agreement isn’t what it should be and they’re running out of time before ratification.

Lawton “Bud” Chiles, the son of Florida’s late Governor Lawton Mainor Chiles Jr., is one of those growers working to tell federal lawmakers NAFTA’s replacement does little to benefit his blueberry operation, north of Tallahassee at Jubilee Orchards.

“Not one thing,” Chiles said. “I mean, it actually hurts us.”

Farmers critical of the agreement feel it lacks protection against what they consider unfair competition from Mexico. There, fresh fruit can be produced cheaper, due in-large part to low-cost labor. It’s then dumped into American markets.

“Wake up,” Chiles said. “Help us out. Realize what’s going on.”

Florida’s Farm Bureau President John L. Hoblick went so far as to say the pact “fails to address the plight of our fruit and vegetable producers” and that it was “an unfortunate, missed opportunity,” shortly after the agreement was announced last August.

The USMCA was spearheaded by the Trump Administration to better balance trade between the three nations. White House officials believe the agreement will do that. Also, that it will “level the field for American workers,” according to the administration's promotional material online, going on to say it will improve wages and conditions across North America through new enforceable standards.

Vice President Mike Pence called it a win for Florida and the US, during his recent stop in Jacksonville.

But— unless something is done to curtail the dumping of seasonal crops, Chiles said his commercial operation is going to continue to suffer.

“It’s causing me great economic hardship,” he said.

Florida’s Congressional Delegation is pushing for a House and Senate bill outside of the agreement to address seasonal crop dumping, directly. If approved, the policies would allow Florida farmers to more easily petition federal officials to investigate illegal subsidies and dumping of Mexican fruits and vegetables in the U.S. market.