Florida Citrus Mutual (FCM) is in communication with Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Kessler at the U.S. Department of Commerce following up on our field testimony on the USMCA (United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement) earlier last year. We wanted Kessler to understand our issues and keep Florida citrus top of mind. We all know the problem is cheap Mexican OJ imports flowing into the U.S., increasing inventories and depressing grower returns.
Global citrus producers in China, South Africa, Spain, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Brazil want access to the U.S. — the most lucrative market in the world. Since its foundation 70 years ago, one of FCM’s primary functions is to protect Florida citrus growers from unfair trade.
That has become even more paramount as modern transportation, technology, and logistics have shrunk the world. We’ve always said Florida growers can compete with anyone on a level playing field. But maintaining that field is a challenge with so many other commodities positioning for the best deal. We can’t let citrus get sold out so another consumer good can get access to a faraway market.
Here are a few of the battles we’ve gone through:
- Fighting for and maintaining the tariff on Brazilian OJ to offset that country’s production advantages. Eliminating this tariff would end the Florida citrus industry; so this is an issue we always pay close attention to.
- Serving as the watchdog on illegal dumping of imported juice at less than the cost of production. The subsequent dumping order resulted in punitive measure against importers and dollars back into the pocket of Florida growers.
- Working with federal regulators to block South African fruit from entering Florida ports, which would raise broad disease issues.
- Establishment of a NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) snap-back tariff on Mexican imports.
Mexican OJ is now at the forefront of our agenda. We’ve enlisted some of the brightest trade minds in Washington to look at the market situation and craft a long-term solution to keep our industry viable in such a complex global environment. A dumping challenge, a potential tariff, and a quota system are all on the table.
The plan is to monitor Mexican imports, which are expected to rise with a short Florida crop. As of this posting, USDA estimates Florida will only produce 56 million boxes of oranges in 2020-2021. Even if that ends up being low, we expect Mexican and Brazilian juice to fill the domestic void.
Our trade experts will see how the increased volume affects the market and explore policy options. Regarding the presidency, we will have the data and analysis to advance our issues to the new administration.
Our trade and tariff issues will have no effect on the industry’s exploration and possible pursuit of a Federal Research and Promotions Program. I’ve been asked that more than once.
These are heavy lifts, but we will continue to communicate with Assistant Secretary Kessler, USDA, United States Trade Representative officials, and our Congressional delegation with our trademark aggressiveness. It’s who we are.
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