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Florida Ag Commissioner calls trade deal ‘disappointing’ for seasonal growers

Pick your own pineapple-oranges at Ridge Island Grove. (Photo: Ridge Island Grove)
Pick your own pineapple-oranges at Ridge Island Grove. (Photo: Ridge Island Grove)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried isn’t joining the bipartisan support for a revised trade deal with Canada and Mexico that is backed by Republican President Donald Trump and the Democratic-run U.S. House.

Fried, Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat, said she was “deeply disappointed” protections for seasonal growers were not included in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which is intended to replace the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. The House approved the new agreement, known as the USMCA, on Thursday.

“For nearly a year, I have called repeatedly for effective, timely relief from unfair trade practices for America’s seasonal produce growers in the USMCA,” Fried said in a prepared statement. “Florida remains committed to continuing our fight through all available channels to protect our vital seasonal produce industry, and to put Florida’s and America’s farmers first.”

Fried estimated the revised trade deal, a priority of Trump that must still get Senate approval, will cost Florida farmers up to 8,000 jobs and $400 million in lost revenue due to seasonal “dumping” of tomatoes, strawberries, peppers, blueberries and cucumbers.

Fried has acknowledged some large agricultural interests in Florida are expected to benefit from the new deal but has pointed to a need to consider the “bigger picture.” That means protecting farmers unfairly affected by Mexico’s ability to dump “cheap, illegally subsidized” fruits and vegetables on the U.S. market without fear of retribution, as Fried described the situation earlier this year.

The trade deal was approved in the U.S. House in a 385-41 vote.

Florida Congressman Vern Buchanan, the lead Republican on the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, said he continues to work with the Office of the United States Trade Representative to help Florida’s specialty crop farmers.

“International trade is critical to Florida, where exports and imports support 2.3 million jobs,” Buchanan, who supported the deal, said in a prepared statement. “Leveling the playing field for Florida and the rest of the nation, as well as increasing access to foreign markets is critical to growing the U.S. economy and creating good-paying jobs.”

Florida is the second-leading producer of fruits and vegetables in the country, supporting nearly 100,000 Florida jobs with an economic impact of more than $12 billion a year, according to Buchanan’s office.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce has urged members to electronically sign a letter backing ratification of the agreement.

“Passage of the USMCA will help strengthen Florida’s position as a global leader on international trade and increase our ability to grow and create jobs,” chamber Executive Vice President David Hart said in a news release issued by Buchanan’s office.

Congressional Democrats from Florida indicated the deal they were approving isn’t perfect. But they said the package had been improved from an initial draft.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., pointed to the importance of international trade in South Florida as he gave support.

"While the USMCA is far from perfect, the goal of any trade agreement should be to create good-paying American jobs with strong protections for American workers, lower prices for American consumers, and contribute to local communities and our national economy,” Deutch, whose district includes parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties, said in a statement.

Rep. Val Demings, an Orlando Democrat who voted for the deal, said she remains concerned about issues such as copyright protections for American companies.

“While I look forward to future reforms around these issues, the USMCA overall is a constructive agreement which will open a door to future opportunities for Central Florida while protecting American workers from unfair competition,” she said in a statement.