When the U.S. hit Mexico with tariffs on its steel and aluminum exports in 2018, the Mexicans retaliated with their own tariffs on U.S. cheese, pork, apples and potatoes. Now, some U.S. farm groups are warning the Trump administration Mexico will retaliate if the U.S. uses tariffs again – this time to counter Mexican shipments of fruits and vegetables.

But that’s exactly what many Southeast farmers and political leaders are demanding. They want the Trump administration to conduct investigations and eventually hit Mexico with tariffs on its blueberries, strawberries, lettuce, asparagus and other specialty crops.

Thursday was the second day of hearings held this month by the U.S. Trade Representative to allow Southeast farmers to air their grievances about rising imports of cheap Mexican fruits and vegetables. The hearing started off with witnesses like Georgia Farm Bureau President Gerald Long, who added another voice to the call for the USTR to consider tariffs on Mexican fruits and vegetables for undercutting U.S. producers with below-market prices.

But after a lunch break, witnesses like Jaime Castaneda, senior vice president for trade policy at the U.S. Dairy Export Council, and John Bode, president and CEO of the Corn Refiners Association, took the virtual stand to plead for caution in dealing with Mexico.

Mexico’s retaliation to U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs two years ago resulted in $1.8 billion in losses for the U.S. dairy industry, which wants to avoid a repeat, Castaneda said Thursday. Many of those losses, he stressed, would be in states like Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Left unsaid is those states are all key battlegrounds for the November presidential election

“As the administration weighs potential next steps on measures related to the topic of seasonal produce, it is critically important that you fully consider the potential for unintended consequences for other U.S. agricultural sectors, including the U.S. dairy sector,” Castaneda said. “In particular we urge you to avoid steps that would once again put dairy producers and processors in the crosshairs of a trade dispute with Mexico.”

Bode similarly cautioned against the Trump administration “overplaying its hand” with Mexico and causing “great collateral damage," but USTR Chief Agricultural Negotiator Gregg Doud appeared unconvinced.

If Mexico is breaking its trade commitments to the U.S., Doud asked, “Shouldn’t the Trump administration take a closer look at this to see what the situation is, or should we just turn a blind eye?”

Bode responded that further investigation is warranted, but the solution he proposed was new negotiations with Mexico. Bode and others also proposed that Southeast farmers initiate an ant-dumping case against Mexican exporters.

Interested in more coverage and insights? Receive a free month of Agri-Pulse.

U.S. negotiators originally fought to include a provision in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to make it easier for seasonal producer farmers to sue Mexican exporters, but it was left out of the deal.

Now it will be up to the Trump administration to put forward a plan to deal with the situation, said Doud and Ted McKinney, USDA’s trade undersecretary, at the end of the Thursday hearing.

“We’ll try to come up with a joint solution,” McKinney said.

Doud added: “What I take away from this is the stark contrast – the dichotomy of views between one side and the other … and the next step of this process is for the administration to put some thought and effort into how to move this forward and that’s exactly what we will do.”

For more news, go to www.Agri-Pulse.com