Trade, labor and the farm bill

Workers prune Kanzi apple trees in Mt. View Orchard, East Wenatchee, Wash., on March 13. The same day, growers lobbied members of Congress regarding trade, labor and the farm bill.

Quick ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, labor and implementation of the farm bill were top items more than 90 apple growers from across the nation talked about this week at more than 100 congressional offices.

March 13 was the U.S. Apple Association’s annual Capitol Hill Day.

USMCA, which would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, is vital to the apple industry to maintain duty-free access to Mexico and Canada and other protections, the association says.

Under NAFTA, which took effect in 1994, U.S. apples to Mexico quadrupled in volume, making Mexico the industry’s largest export market, said Jim Bair, president and CEO of U.S. Apple.

Exports to Canada doubled. The two markets total about $450 million annually.

Prior to NAFTA, Mexico had a 20% tariff on U.S. apples. It has imposed that again in retaliation for U.S. tariffs on Mexican steel and aluminum. The association is urging President Donald Trump to remove those tariffs so Mexico will drop its 20% tariff.

The tariff has cost U.S. apple growers about $300 million in lost exports so far and Canada could add apples to its list at any time, Bair said.

“One out of every three apples is exported and duty-free access to Mexico and Canada has been a tremendous benefit to the U.S. apple industry,” Bair said. He called it “imperative” that tariffs are removed and USMCA is ratified.

Regarding labor, apple growers have struggled for years to find enough workers. U.S. Apple is urging Congress to pass legislation to provide a “stable, adequate and predictable” supply of labor and replace or significantly reform the “complicated and expensive” H-2A-visa foreign guestworker program.

Growers also lobbied for timely implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill, which contains funding for specialty crop research and technical assistance, the Market Access Program aiding exports, plant pest and disease grants and nutrition programs.

“As growers continue to work toward solutions on trade, labor reform, ever-increasing regulations and production costs, it is critical their voices are heard on Capitol Hill,” Bair said.

Central Washington field reporter

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