The Washington Red Raspberry Commission will study a 314-page federal report, looking for grounds to pursue a trade complaint.
The recently published report by the U.S. International Trade Commission repeats figures, estimates and comments gathered during a year-long investigation into global red raspberry production.
A surge in imported berries between 2010 and 2015 continues to lower sales for Washington berry farmers, the report acknowledges, even though imports have leveled off and declined slightly since then.
However, the report doesn’t outright answer the raspberry commission’s main concern: Whether lower-grade Mexican raspberries are being dumped into the U.S. at below the cost of production.
“I can’t say we accomplished that,” said Henry Bierlink, executive director the raspberry commission. “I think we got at least a partial answer.
“Certainly a number of us are looking at it,” he said. “What we do about it is the next question.”
At the request of the raspberry commission, the Trump administration’s top trade official, Robert Lighthizer, ordered the fact-finding investigation by the trade commission, an independent agency.
Whatcom County, Wash., farmers produce most of the U.S. red raspberries that are immediately frozen individually or in blocks.
Mexico’s raspberry industry focuses on fresh market sales, but some berries, known as “seconds,” are sold to processors and compete directly with Washington berries.
The trade commission didn’t find any evidence to contradict testimony from the Mexican raspberry industry that “seconds” make up only about 10% of Mexican imports to the U.S.
The Washington raspberry industry suspects that rising imports of fresh Mexican berries means that more “seconds” are being diverted to processors at salvage prices.
One Mexican official testified that fewer Mexican berries were failing to meet fresh-market standards because of improved cultivars.
The trade commission said that incomplete trade data “confounded” investigators, who were unable to determine whether the volume of Mexican “seconds” was rising or falling.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative did not respond to a request for comment.
Washington’s red raspberry industry warns that declining prices will lead to fewer acres planted and fewer domestic farmers.
Mexican red raspberry production nearly doubled between 2015 and 2019, driven primarily by the lucrative U.S. fresh market, according to the trade commission’s report.
Mexican farmers grow berries year-round in hoop houses. The berries are hand-picked by workers who make an average of $1.29 an hour, according to the report.
Washington farmers are vulnerable to bad weather and machine pick. The workers earn, on average, $14.49 an hour, according to the report.
The report also examined imports from other countries. Imports from Canada, Serbia and Mexico increased by 40.5% in the past half dozen years, but Chile pulled back, pushing overall imports down 6%.
Between 2015 and 2020, Washington farmers sold roughly $530 million worth of red raspberries for processing, compared to $740 million by foreign competitors, according to the trade commission.
High-production costs, driven by labor costs, can limit the ability of Washington farmers to compete with foreign growers, the commission’s report stated.