Frozen, unfrozen, sweetened, unsweetened, fresh, or dried: these qualities predict a blueberry’s entry into a foreign market. That is unless the blueberry crosses a border under a free trade agreement.

In 2019, the United States and Japan forged a historic trade agreement that promised a brighter, more open future for American agriculture. Since then, American blueberry farmers have jumped to join the market, exemplified by the remarkable success story of Sakuma Brothers Farms and Processing, a 4th generation family farm in Washington States’s Skagit Valley.

The Sakumas epitomize the American Dream. In 1907, Takeo and Nobu Sakuma immigrated to the United States and settled into the farming community of Bainbridge Island, Washington. They went on to have 10 children, 8 boys and 2 girls. In 1935, the eldest of the Sakuma children, Takeo, started farming blueberries near Burlington. His siblings followed suit, and the family farming business was born.

To this day, the Sakumas remain deeply connected to their Japanese heritage. Over the years, they saw their business flourish with exports to Japan - an inspiring testament to the promise and possibilities international trade brings to family-owned businesses, and the ripple effect to their rural communities.

However, concealed within the folds of this seemingly favorable trade agreement lies a critical oversight. While the U.S. celebrated the agreement for securing duty-free access to fresh and dried blueberries, frozen blueberries were conspicuously omitted from this trade windfall. This stark exclusion has put our robust blueberry exports at a disadvantage, as Japan levies no such tariffs on frozen blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

Japan is a top-priority market for the U.S. blueberry industry, with exports exceeding $12 million in 2022. Frozen blueberries make up nearly half of these total exports, with unsweetened frozen blueberries receiving a 9.6% tariff and sweetened berries receiving 6%.

As a result, American blueberry exports to Japan have fallen from 21% in 2018 to 15% in 2022. Meanwhile, Canada continues to dominate the market with a 57% share, while the EU's share has more than doubled, reaching nearly 9%.

Borne of a costly oversight, tariffs on American frozen blueberries have made our exports uncompetitive compared to countries within the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which enjoy unfettered access to the Japanese market for all blueberry products.

Export industries like ours are the lifeblood of rural America, supporting the livelihoods of growers, processors, and industry workers. Approximately 40-50% of the frozen blueberries produced in Washington State and the West Coast find their way to Japan. Furthermore, about 90% of this fruit is packaged in small retail packs, ensuring year-round employment at American packing facilities.

But, for almost four years, the exclusion of frozen American blueberries has jeopardized business relationships between our farmers and importers within the industry's third-largest international market. The consequences are severe, but the potential to rectify this situation exists, and we must seize it.

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A letter signed and sent by 34 Members of Congress to Ambassador Katherine Tai underscores the necessity of this matter, urging the administration to level the playing field through a "technical amendment," ensuring that U.S. frozen blueberries “receive the same duty-free market access in Japan as fresh or dried blueberries.” And with Japan soon in California for the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) ministerial meeting, it is an appropriate time to raise this concern with our critical trading partner.

A technical amendment eliminating Japan's tariffs on U.S. frozen blueberries will prevent further erosion of our market share and increase exports estimated at $10-15 million by 2030.

Beyond the growth statistics, there are farming families like the Sakumas who embody the hopes and dreams of American agriculture. Unfortunately, farms like Sakuma Brothers along with the processors and workers along the supply chain — will face an uncertain playing field caused by oversight and sustained by inaction.

It is time for this Administration to champion its blueberry industry and ensure American blueberry farmers have an equal opportunity to contribute to American export success stories.

Kasey Cronquist is the President of the North American Blueberry Council since 2019.

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