MONTREAL – A controversial American proposal that would place seasonal tariffs on a host of North American fruits and vegetables remains on the table – despite demands from a U.S. Department of Agriculture advisory council that it be pulled.
Members of the Agricultural Technical Advisory Council for trade in fruits and vegetables have written a letter to USTR officials demanding the demand be retracted, sources close to the negotiation told iPolitics.
The letter was sent after the 15-member committee voted 12-3 to oppose the U.S. position Jan.10, as first reported by Agri-Pulse, an agriculture focused news outlet in Washington, D.C.
Earlier this fall, U.S. negotiators tabled a demand that restricts cross-border imports of certain produce by changing anti-dumping and tariff rules for certain fruits and vegetable products. Fruits and vegetables listed in the proposal include: potatoes, apples, tomatoes, avocados, bell peppers, watermelons and various berries. Peaches are not listed.
American Chief NAFTA Negotiator John Melle refused comment when asked to provide an update on the status of the U.S. seasonal produce demand Saturday. USTR officials also declined to comment Saturday
Mexico has deemed the U.S. demand a non-starter. Mexican officials in Montreal this week equated the request to American demands that Canada eliminate its entire supply management system for dairy, eggs, and poultry within a decade.
Canadian negotiators are also pushing back against the demand, which a source close to the negotiations said is seen as being inconsistent with World Trade Organization rules. As of Saturday afternoon, sources close to the talks said the text remains on the table.
Canada’s Chief Negotiator Steve Verheul told iPolitics Saturday that Canada is “very strongly opposed” to the American proposal..
Canada’s fruits and vegetables industry also opposes the demand on seasonal produce.
In a Nov. 17 letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association warned “the direction of these proposals would serve to extinguish any sense of objectivity or fairness in the enforcement proceedings establish under a revised NAFTA.”
“Our key concern is that acceptance of this proposal would offer regional grower organizations greater ability to trigger anti-dumping and countervail duty investigations, thereby allowing greater latitude for frivolous and harassing investigations based on narrow, regional circumstances,” the letter reads.
South of the border, growers are deeply divided.
The U.S. proposal is heavily backed by Florida tomato growers who say their operations are being undermined by Mexican imports. Florida’s growing season overlaps with Mexico’s.
The Northwest Horticulture Council, which represents growers in Washington state, Oregon and Idaho, and the Texas Fresh Produce Coalition for NAFTA oppose the text.
At least one U.S. Senator opposes the American produce proposal. Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake called it “ill advised” in a Nov. 7 letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
“The potential direct impacts of such efforts include the opportunity for such trade remedies to be used against fruit and vegetable exports as well as increased costs and decreased selection of fruits and vegetables available to U.S. families and consumers,” the letter reads.
Flake has put a hold on the Senate’s confirmation hearing for the Trump administration’s nominee for chief agriculture negotiator, Gregg Doud, because of the produce proposal.
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