The International Trade Commission decided Thursday to end its investigation into claims that a flood of imported blueberries is hurting U.S. farmers by undercutting prices and stealing business away from domestic producers.
Foreign-sourced blueberries “are not being imported into the United States in such increased quantities as to be a substantial cause of serious injury, or threat of serious injury, to the domestic industry producing an article like or directly competitive with the imported article in the United States,” the ITC said in a statement. “As a result of today's vote, the investigation will end, and the commission will not recommend a remedy to the president." The vote to end the investigation was 5-0.
That comes as a sharp blow to members of the American Blueberry Growers Alliance and some lawmakers who supported efforts to try to curtail imports. The ABGA has some powerful lawmakers on its side, including Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.
“Imports of blueberries have increased in recent years from countries such as Chile, Peru, Mexico, Argentina, and Canada,” Stabenow said together with Michigan’s other Democratic senator, Gary Peters, in a letter they sent to the ITC last week. “We continue to hear concerns that imports of foreign blueberries during the domestic growing season depress prices and contribute to a glut of supplies on the market. … It is vital to maintain a domestic blueberry industry in the United States so that American families are not dependent on foreign imports for our food supply.”
Florida and Georgia blueberry farmers say they are some of the hardest hit by influxes of cheap imports during their growing season, and they helped convince the Trump administration to begin the Section 202 investigation on Sept. 29.
“The massive amounts of Mexican blueberries surging into the United States during our growing season are crippling our blueberry growers, many of whom are struggling to sustain their family-owned operations,” the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association said in a statement Thursday. “Absent timely and effective trade remedy relief, the harmful impacts of these imports on the Florida blueberry industry will continue to escalate and darken the future for our growers.”
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But overall, the significant rise in imports over the last decade has benefited consumers, who have had increasingly better access to blueberries around the year and at lower prices, according to a recent report from the USDA’s Economic Research Service.
“Over the past 10 years, the total supply of fresh blueberries available for American consumption has increased fivefold,” says ERS. “Availability of fresh blueberries to U.S. consumers has grown at a faster pace than that of fresh strawberries over that same time. U.S. production and imports of blueberries both have been increasing rapidly to meet year-round consumer demand.”
But countries like Peru, Chile and Mexico are increasingly sending their blueberries to the U.S. to compete directly with domestic harvests, says Jerome Crosby, a Georgia farmer and chairman of the American Blueberry Growers Alliance board of directors.
“Because of booming domestic demand, we should be enjoying a market in which there is room for both domestic and foreign growers to profit,” Crosby said in a statement released last month. “However, foreign government policies targeting the United States market and large corporate import interests have combined to bring massive volumes of blueberries into our market, increasingly during periods that in the past provided growers with the bulk of their revenues and often all of their profits for the year.”
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