Georgia Congressman Says Unfair Trade Practices Hurt the State’s Blueberry Industry

 

Georgia is one of several states that harvest blueberries, but U.S. Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA-08) said this week that other nations’ unfair trade practices have harmed all of America’s blueberry growers.

Scott and other members of Congress want members of the International Trade Commission to help.

ITC members held a hearing on the matter last week, according to a newsletter that Scott emailed his constituents Sunday.

“Like many of our nation’s fresh fruit and vegetable growers, blueberry growers have been reeling from years of unfair trade practices that flood our domestic market with cheap foreign-subsidized produce below the cost of production here in the U.S. In some cases, it is uneconomical to even harvest the crop given the low prices caused by imports targeting the U.S. blueberry market,” Scott wrote (pictured above).

“This week’s hearing comes in conjunction with a Section 201 investigation before the ITC to examine this issue and is a commitment I received from the United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer after raising concerns on this issue during consideration of the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA). Through this Section 201 investigation, I am hopeful that the ITC will recognize that imported blueberries have caused serious injury to the domestic blueberry industry and changes are needed to support our American blueberry growers.”

In a December 11 letter to the ITC, Scott and 31 other members of Congress said that current blueberry prices are their lowest in years.

“Scores of blueberry growers have gone out of business causing hardship on family farmers, economic harm to providers of packing and freezing services, and damage to the growers’ local communities and tax bases. Grower profits have declined or vanished as prices have plummeted and blueberries have been left on bushes because it is uneconomic to harvest. In short, the effects of the import surge have been and remain devastating to the domestic blueberry industry,” according to the letter.

“Blueberry imports have surged from a number of countries, especially Chile, Peru, Mexico, Argentina, and Canada, rising nearly 62 percent from 423 million pounds in 2015 to 684 million pounds in 2019. The blueberry market in these countries has been developed to expand exports to the United States rather than for domestic consumption. The large number of countries providing those exports indicates that a global solution is warranted and necessary to provide relief to the domestic blueberry industry.”

The United States, the members of Congress went on to say, depend heavily on imports for a variety of important food crops.

“Failure to control the surge of blueberries threatens to sharply reduce the number of U.S. blueberry growers and the volume of U.S. blueberries produced,” the members of Congress said.

“Not only do these imports threaten domestic businesses and livelihoods, they also expose U.S. consumers to products from countries with poor or inconsistent product safety records.”

David Salmonsen, senior director for Congressional Relations for the Washington, D.C.-based American Farm Bureau, told The Georgia Star News Monday that ITC members will gather facts and, if they deem necessary, suggest a remedy to the president of the United States.

“That remedy could be tariffs. It could be quotas. Then it goes on to the president of the United States to determine whether to go through with that or not,” Salmonsen said.

“There are a couple of steps in this process to see if any action will be taken. If there is a recommendation to the president then that will be at the end of March this year.”

According to the University of Georgia Extension’s website, Rabbiteye blueberries are native to Georgia. People in Georgia harvest blueberries from late May through mid-July. Georgians grow blueberries commercially primarily in the southern part of the state, while residents of the north Georgia mountains also grow them.

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]

 

 

 

 

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