Press Releases

Bipartisan, Bicameral PNW Members Defend Their Farmers from NAFTA Renegotiation Threat

Pacific Northwest growers may no longer compete in key export markets of Canada, Mexico

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Washington, September 20, 2017 | comments

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Representative Dave Reichert (WA-08), and Representative Suzan DelBene (WA-01) led a bipartisan group of members of Congress urging the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to abandon a proposal to establish a trade remedy provision for perishable and seasonal products that would harm the competiveness of fruit and vegetable growers in Washington state and Oregon. The provision is being considered as a part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiation process.

Members of Congress also signing the letter include Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-WA), Rep. Rick Larsen (WA-02), Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (WA-03), Rep. Dan Newhouse (WA-04), McMorris Rodgers (WA-05), Rep. Denny Heck (WA-10), Rep. Greg Walden (OR-02), and Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR-05).

Agricultural production and trade are crucial to the economic health of the Pacific Northwest and Canada and Mexico are vital trading partners. The provision under consideration may spell the end of duty-free access to these important markets for growers and exporters in the region.

“We expect that Canadian and Mexican industries, including the tree fruit industry, may take advantage of such a provision to restrict exports of U.S. products,” the members wrote. “Failure to consider these concerns will leave our tree fruit growers and other producers, who have proven highly successful in competing in the Mexican and Canadian marketplaces, vulnerable to tariffs that would have a negative impact on rural communities throughout our states.”

Crops such as tree fruit, wheat, potatoes, and hops would all be affected. Mexico and Canada are the top two export markets for apples and pears, and Canada has historically been the top export market for cherries. Washington state and Oregon grow more than three quarters of all the pears, apples, and cherries grown in the U.S.

In Washington state, agriculture and food production employs 140,000 people and comprises 13 percent of the state’s economy. In Oregon, the industry supports almost 160,000 jobs and agriculture and food exports make up 6 percent of the state’s economy.

A copy of the letter can be found here and below:

Dear Ambassador Lighthizer:

As members of the Washington and Oregon delegations, we write to convey concerns regarding a possible trade remedy provision for perishable and seasonal products as a part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiation process. Given that there are serious, unresolved stakeholder concerns about the negative impact of such a provision on U.S. exports and jobs, we ask that you not move forward with this proposal. We urge you to consult closely with stakeholders and Congress on these matters.

Fruits and vegetables are an important part of Pacific Northwest agricultural production and exports, and Canada and Mexico are key markets supporting exports from the region. For example, growers, packers, and shippers in the Pacific Northwest produce more than three quarters of the fresh apples and cherries, and approximately 84 percent of the fresh pears, grown in the United States. Mexico and Canada are the top two export markets for apples and pears, with about 15 percent of the apple crop and 20 percent of the pear crop, worth approximately $442 million, shipped to our southern and northern neighbors each year. Canada has historically been the top market for cherries, with sales approaching $100 million; an additional $5 million to $10 million worth of cherries are exported to Mexico annually. It is estimated that these tree-fruit sales alone to consumers residing within the borders of our NAFTA trading partners support 4,100 jobs in the Pacific Northwest.

Because these jobs are dependent on exports to our NAFTA partners, we have a significant interest in how this negotiation affects the ability of Pacific Northwest growers to maintain their duty-free access to these vital commercial markets. We appreciate that USTR’s “Summary of Objectives for the NAFTA Renegotiation” included maintaining reciprocal duty-free market access for agricultural goods as a negotiating objective. However, we are concerned that the proposed provision for perishable and seasonal products, if adopted, would run counter to this goal and leave our growers vulnerable to new duties from these two critically important trading partners.

We expect that Canadian and Mexican industries, including the tree fruit industry, may take advantage of such a provision to restrict exports of U.S. products. The U.S. apple industry has been the subject of trade remedy investigations in Canada and Mexico, and therefore any new rule may be applied by these countries in a future proceeding against U.S. producers. Failure to consider these concerns will leave our tree-fruit growers and other producers, who have proven highly successful in competing in the Mexican and Canadian marketplaces, vulnerable to tariffs that would have a negative impact on rural communities throughout our states.

Again, given the concerns of Pacific Northwest fruit and vegetable producers, we ask that you not move forward with this proposal. We appreciate your continued commitment to this matter as negotiations with Mexico and Canada to reform NAFTA progress.

Sincerely,

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