Kevin Murphy, CEO of Driscoll’s, explained to FoodNavigator-USA that he helped launched the Produce Coalition for NAFTA earlier this year after he became aware that some growers in Southeast US wanted to introduce an anti-dumping provision that would be “much more narrow in its approach” than the current provision.
“What is at stake for us is this idea that a much smaller group of growers from one region could get together and decide that they feel like, in this case Mexico and maybe Canada, are dumping product on the US market and therefore anti-dumping duties should be imposed and the flow of product could be blocked in the middle of the season,” he said.
“This is very different from existing rules which require you have a majority of a coalition of growers from different areas and it has to be done over a longer period of time,” he explained.
Unlike the current set-up, the proposed change is “ripe for abuse,” and could “set a bad precedent” for Mexico or Canada to turn around and apply the same standard to the US market in other categories, including corn, dairy, wheat and other commodities, Murphy said.
“What this does is it sets up the potential for trade wars to occur and really takes us back to pre-NAFTA,” which would be a mistake, Murphy said.
The benefits of NAFTA
He explained that “NAFTA has been overwhelmingly positive for all countries. That doesn’t mean that at different times different industries haven’t been impacted by it, I understand that, but if you look at the overall benefit it has been dramatic for all three countries and has been based on free trade. So, there is a real opportunity to continue.”
For example, he noted, “before NAFTA the US strawberry business was about $1 billion in size and after NAFTA it is over $2 billion. So, it has more than doubled and really out of that, very little produce comes from outside the US.”
In addition, the coalition argues NAFTA has benefited US consumers, who can now eat healthier options to the tune of 145.1 pounds of fresh vegetables per year – a14% increase from the 126.8 pounds per year in 1993 before NAFTA was enacted.
In all, the total value of agricultural trade among all three NAFTA counties is about $82 billion in 2013 compared to $16.7 million ten years earlier, according to the coalition.
Some changes are necessary
Despite these advancements and the coalition’s defense of NAFTA, the coalition recognizes that NAFTA is 25 years old and “there are lots of opportunities to work on modernizing NAFTA.”
For example, Murphy says the coalition wants to see standardization around phytosanitization and making minimum residual limits. It also wants better worker welfare standards that are consistent across the countries, streamlined border crossing that is easy to navigate and improved environmental standards.
The basic idea is that these changes would level the playing field across the series of areas which will benefit everybody and also will enable the US consumer to be comfortable with the safety standards, he said.
“In the end,” he added, “we need to value free trade as great and ensure it is done in a balanced way that benefits the majority of those concerned.”