Ag Commissioner warns new NAFTA may hurt Florida farmers

Published: May. 21, 2019 at 5:40 PM EDT
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By: Jake Stofan | Capitol News Service

May 21, 2019

QUINCY, Fla. (CNS) -- Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture fears the new North American Trade Agreement, officially known as the United-States-Mexico Canada Agreement, proposed by the Trump Administration, may leave Florida farmers unprotected.

Graves Williams has farmed tomatoes in Quincy for more than 30 years. He’s one of the few left in the state.

“When I started in Florida there were 224 tomato farmers and I think there's less than 25 now,” said Williams.

The reason so few are left is due, in part, to Mexican producers flooding the market with cheaper produce.

“We have a hard time competing with Mexico when they pay, on average, their workers $8 a day when we're paying $80 to $100 a day for the workers doing the exact same job,” said Williams.

To help U.S. farmers compete, the Trump Administration in February imposed a 17.5 percent tariff on Mexican tomatoes.

While the new tariffs may help even the playing field in the short term, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried said the tariffs could be pulled back and even refunded under the new USMCA proposal.

“This supposed ‘better deal’ is a bad deal for Florida farmers, and could put farms out of business. Smoke and mirrors from the White House won't help our proud but struggling farmers,” said Fried in a statement.

That would once again make it harder for farmers like Williams to compete.

“They [Mexico] need to play by the rules. They just can't flood this country with produce,” said Williams. "Our government needs to make sure they just don't completely destroy American produce."

A hit to the agriculture industry would be felt statewide. Florida agriculture is a $132 billion industry, second only to tourism.

"If the Trump Administration wants to put America first, they should put Florida's farmers first, and help them compete on a level playing field. Until that happens, this new deal isn't anything new – just a worsening of 25 years of NAFTA's failures,” said Fried.

Fried has asked the Trump Administration to support the Domestic Produce Production Act. It would make it easier for the federal government to investigate illegal trade practices by Mexican producers.

Current law requires petitioners to demonstrate harm as measured from a nationwide and year-round perspective.

"Florida farmers aren’t looking for a handout, just the chance to compete on a level playing field,” said Fried.

The Domestic Produce Production Act is supported by Florida Senator Marco Rubio and backed by all of Florida’s 27 U.S. representatives.

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