Ag leaders turn focus to USMCA

With the new Congress settled, President Trump’s State of the Union address and government shutdown all in the past, it’s time for government leaders to pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, many groups say.

“To us, it’s too important to not ratify,” said Jim Bair, president and CEO of the U.S. Apple Association, Feb. 7.

He said the administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada and Mexico are devastating exports for apples and other produce items.

“Mexico is the No.1 market for apples, and these tariffs have to be removed,” he said.

In addition to North American trade issues, he said tariffs on apples headed to China and India are closing large and high value markets.

“China was buying premium varieties and paying premium prices,” Bair said of a market that increased from zero to 2.5 million cartons per year from 2015 to 2018.

On Jan. 23, U.S. Apple joined nearly 50 agriculture groups – including the National Potato Council and the United Fresh Produce Association – in a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, urging the removal of the aluminum and steel tariffs and ratification of the USMCA.

Bair released a prepared statement at the end of the State of the Union Feb. 5 that read:

“The U.S. Apple Association (USApple) welcomes President Trump’s State of the Union remarks on the importance of trade, especially as it pertains to the agriculture sector. With more than 30 percent of fresh apples destined for overseas markets, trade policies play a critical role in the health of the apple industry.

“Mexico and Canada are top export markets for apples, totaling nearly a half-billion dollars in annual sales. We support ratification of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). The agreement is good for apples as it maintains duty-free access and other important provisions from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), including dispute resolution.

“However, because of current trade disputes regarding U.S.-imposed section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum, and resulting retaliatory tariffs by our major trading partners, apple exports are down 30 percent, or about $300 million. Exports to our number one market Mexico are down 23 percent, and down 70 percent and 40 percent respectively to growth markets India and China.

Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services Inc.