Feb 11, 2021
USITC: Imported blueberries have not caused serious injury to domestic industry

The U.S. International Trade Commission determined Feb. 11 that fresh, chilled, or frozen blueberries are not being imported into the United States in such increased quantities as to be a substantial cause of serious injury, or the threat of serious injury, to the domestic industry producing an article like or directly competitive with the imported article.

According to a news release, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) determination was made in the context of an investigation initiated on Sept. 29, 2020, under section 202 of the Trade Act of 1974 (19 U.S.C. § 2252) at the request of the U.S. Trade Representative.  Information about this investigation and global safeguard investigations in general can be found here:  https://usitc.gov/press_room/documents/blueberries_factsheet_finalassubmittedforposting.pdf

The commission’s determination resulted from a 5-0 vote. Chair Jason E. Kearns, Vice Chair Randolph J. Stayin, and Commissioners David S. Johanson, Rhonda K. Schmidtlein, and Amy A. Karpel voted in the negative.

As a result of the Feb. 11 vote, the investigation will end, and the commission will not recommend a remedy to President Joe Biden.  The commission will submit its report containing its injury determination and the basis for it to the president by March 29, 2021.

A public report concerning the investigation will be available after the commission submits its report to the president.

American Blueberry Growers Alliance (ABGA) statement

“The American Blueberry Growers Alliance (ABGA) is disappointed with the decision today by the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to find that rising imports of foreign-grown blueberries are not causing serious injury or threatening to cause serious injury to domestic farmers. We disagree with the outcome of the Commissioner’s investigation. Throughout this case, blueberry growers across the United States provided the ITC with extensive data and personal experiences about the significant harm caused by surging imports on the supply and pricing of blueberries in the U.S. market, especially during our critical growing and harvest seasons.

We believed this data and testimony made a compelling case that safeguard measures were critical to the survival of our domestic farmers, and we are disappointed by the Commission’s decision. We actively participated in this investigation because we believe U.S. trade laws must support a level playing field for American farmers – one in which lower labor costs and more lax environmental standards in other countries does not drive our domestic growers out of business.

The outcome of this investigation reveals deficiencies in U.S. trade laws, which unfortunately will put the long-term viability of the domestic blueberry industry in jeopardy. We have received strong support from members of Congress, state elected officials, agricultural associations and other farm interests throughout this investigation, and we plan to work with these groups on other remedies to ensure that American consumers continue to have access to fresh, high-quality, safe, domestically grown blueberries.

Meanwhile, our domestic growers will face another year of economic uncertainty as they grow and harvest their 2021 blueberry crop. No doubt, imports will now accelerate to overwhelm our domestic market this year. This will cause even greater hardship on family-owned farm operations, as well as on providers of packing and freezing services, and damage to local communities and tax bases.”

Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association statement

“The International Trade Commission’s injury determination today does not reflect the devastation from imports we have witnessed firsthand on our blueberry farms across Florida. 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. 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.

Trade relief is desperately needed, not only for our blueberry growers, but for our bell pepper, strawberry and other Florida produce sectors that are also facing harmful impacts and a highly uncertain future due to unfair imports. To give our Florida produce growers a future and ensure that American families are not dependent on foreign imports for their produce supplies during the winter-spring months of the year, we will not stop until effective relief is achieved.”

Statement from the Blueberry Coalition for Progress and Health

“The Blueberry Coalition for Progress and Health applauds the U.S. International Trade Commission’s (ITC) determination that imported blueberries have not injured the domestic industry.

The U.S. blueberry industry is healthy and thriving. Together with imports, the U.S. industry is working hard to keep up with the year-round and growing marketplace demand for this healthy and nutritious fruit.

U.S. per capita consumption of blueberries has experienced a more than 300% since 2005 and is now at an all-time high of 1.79 pounds per person. Restricting blueberry imports into the U.S. would have limited consumers’ access to these healthy, delicious, and nutritional berries with no benefit to U.S. producers.

We look forward to continuing to provide the American market with our healthy and delicious fruit.”

Statement from the Georgia Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association

“Georgia blueberry growers received disappointing news today that the International Trade Commission (ITC) made a negative determination in their ongoing 201 investigation into imported blueberries.

The decision comes on the heels of testimony from Georgia and other domestic growers who shared countless accounts of the impacts the surge of foreign grown products have had on their farms here in the U.S. With imports increasing an astounding 2,210 % between 2009 and 2019, the proof of the increase and the resulting damage to Georgia growers is clear.

GFVGA’s position also remains clear; U.S. trade policy must provide American farmers with a level playing field. The future of our food security demands nothing less.

GFVGA remains committed to pursuing all options at our disposal to seek a trade system that is fair to Georgia growers. Charles Hall, GFVGA Executive Director expressed the Association’s determination to find a solution for Georgia farmers, “We will continue to fight for Georgia growers of blueberries and all other crops that face continued pressure from imports that flood our markets at prices that are not sustainable and increase our reliance on foreign grown food.”

GFVGA will now look to reaffirm our work with our Congressional Delegation, Georgia Department of Agriculture and other organizations who have expressed their support for American Growers as we determine a path forward for blueberry producers. At the same time, we are actively engaged in ITC investigations into import effects on Georgia grown squash, cucumbers, and peppers.

Hall encourages Georgia growers to stay engaged in the fight, “While we are disappointed in the ITC blueberry decision, we will continue to strive for fair trade for Georgia farmers. We are currently seeking data from pepper growers and will be engaging squash and cucumber growers as these investigations continue. The fight isn’t over.”

Michigan Blueberry Commission, Michigan Farm Bureau react

Kevin Robson, executive director of the Michigan Blueberry Commission, called the ITC ruling a major disappointment for the state’s $130 million blueberry industry, one that defies logic when looking at import data.

According to Robson, over 550 Michigan farms produce nearly 100 million pounds of quality fresh and frozen blueberries annually on more than 20,000 acres. But the explosive growth in imports, unfair trade practices and market-price manipulation strategically timed to undermine domestic growers at their peak harvest has taken its toll.

“Recent data shows U.S. imports of blueberries have surged by over 62% from 423 million pounds in 2015 to 684 million pounds in 2019 in just the last five years alone,” Robson said. “The value of these imports has more than doubled since 2014, with five countries accounting for more than 98% of total imports over that period.”

In a letter to ITC Chairman Jason Kerns before the ruling, Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski noted imports from Peru have increased by more than 3,500%, while imports from Mexico have increased nearly 300%. Imports from Canada and Chile also increased in value during this time he wrote.

“The timing of such imports during Michigan’s harvest period and the extremely low pricing of imports have resulted in a financial hardship for Michigan’s farms,” Bednarski said. “Our growers are struggling to stay in production and deeply concerned that if the surge of imports from foreign countries continues, we will no longer have a blueberry industry in Michigan.”

USHBC/NABC remain neutral

The U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC) and North American Blueberry Council (NABC) issued the following statement regarding the ITC ruling.

“Last fall, the NABC and USHBC announced that USHBC was not legally able to participate or engage in the ITC investigation or proceedings. Subsequently, NABC board leadership also voted to remain neutral in its role and relationship in order to stay focused on the mission and vision of the USHBC to pursue health research and drive demand and consumption on behalf of the industry. The original NABC/USHBC statement can be found below.  

“We recognize the real tension felt in our industry today. With that in mind, the following outlines the manner in which the USHBC and NABC intend to proceed in the days and weeks ahead.”

USHBC is prohibited from engaging in any efforts for the purpose of influencing government action or policy, for that reason, it is not authorized to participate in the 201 investigation.

“USHBC will continue its laser focus on promoting groundbreaking health research and driving the consumption of fresh, frozen and processed blueberries in grocery, online, foodservice, export and food manufacturing channels.

“Our market research shows that blueberry consumption still has tremendous opportunity for substantial growth domestically and internationally and USHBC’s primary role is to help growers benefit from continuing to increase consumer and customer demand.”

“NABC will not be taking a stand on the 201 issue, but will continue aggressively working with the U.S. government on programs to help domestic growers better compete moving forward. We have to address labor costs and regulatory issues, and assist growers in transitioning to varietals that can be more efficiently harvested while improving the consumer experience.”

Both the USHBC and NABC will continue to fight for the short-term viability of our members and the long-term future success of our industry.

Gary Pullano, editor, Fruit Growers News

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