The future of U.S. tomato growers and their workers are being held hostage by Washington. Right now, the Obama administration has taken the historic step of delaying, and potentially denying, a request by U.S. growers to exercise their rights under U.S. trade laws to fight unfair trade.
Rather than standing up for our industry, the Obama administration appears ready to cater to foreign growers and jeopardize production and jobs across Florida and around the country.
Sixteen years ago, tomato growers petitioned their government for relief from a flood of fresh tomatoes from Mexico that were being sold at less than the cost of production. U.S. officials quickly agreed that the facts were clear but decided to engage in an agreement with Mexico designed, in their view, to restore fair conditions of competition to the market.
Sixteen years and two more flawed and failed agreements later, U.S. growers have said, enough is enough.
They have asked that their original petition be withdrawn and the existing agreement be terminated.
I joined with them in supporting their request, as did workers, the commissioners of agriculture and members of Congress from across the country.
Every other time that a similar request has been made to the U.S. Department of Commerce in the past it has been granted. Who knows better than domestic producers what’s happening to their profitability and operations in the market? Why has the administration delayed making a decision and is now actually erecting hurdles for domestic growers in their quest to restore fair competition based on current facts and market conditions?
I believe in free trade. But, free trade also has to be fair.
Certain rules have to be followed – rules that have been internationally accepted and agreed to. Our growers are seeking the opportunity to fight their own battles, to prove that their competitors are breaking the rules and restore a level playing field. All they want is a fair chance to compete. Right now these growers, many of whom are family farmers who simply want to work hard and play by the rules, are being denied that right. The failure of the administration to honor historical precedent is further destroying confidence in our trading system and corroding public support for further trade liberalization.
Floridians are rightly proud of their state’s agricultural sector. We produce some of the highest quality products for family tables all across the country and other markets. But, many of our farmers are small, family-run operations who don’t have the resources to wage battles in Washington and who simply want the opportunity to succeed or fail in a free market. Their own government’s delay in allowing them to withdraw from the current failed agreement denies them that opportunity and jeopardizes their operations, the operations of other tomato growers in the state, and those growing other crops or raising livestock and our entire agricultural system.
It’s time to send a message to the Obama administration that we want our trade laws to work for U.S. interests.
6:13 PM, Sep. 12, 2012