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Remarks by Commerce Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at the U.S. Trade Representative Virtual Field Hearing on Seasonal and Perishable Produce

AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY

Introduced by USTR Ambassador Robert Lighthizer. 

Participants include U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer; Chief Agricultural Negotiator Ambassador Gregg Doud; USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue; E&C Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Kessler; and USDA Under Secretary Ted McKinney.

Thank you, Ambassador Lighthizer, for your steadfast commitment and devotion to American producers and American workers. And a warm welcome to the many panelists and witnesses that will testify over the two days of hearings.

The amount of interest shown in this hearing by those dedicated to preserving and strengthening this essential American industry is an indication of the importance of domestic food production and our domestic farmers.

We are here today because the Trump Administration recognizes the economic importance of this country’s seasonal and perishable produce industry. At the Commerce Department, we are acutely aware that U.S. agriculture faces rising foreign competition, particularly from Mexico. In the past 10 years, total agricultural imports from Mexico have skyrocketed, increasing almost threefold, to $28.3 billion in 2019. Imports of fresh fruits from Mexico ─ excluding bananas ─ have increased from $2.3 billion in 2010, to $6.9 billion in 2019. Fresh vegetable imports from Mexico have almost doubled over the past decade to $6.3 billion.

It’s imperative that the U.S. government listens to the concerns of our growers. And at the Commerce Department, we take concerns of unfair foreign trade practices seriously, and we use every tool available to counter them whenever and wherever they exist. In fact, the Trump Administration has already delivered some results for the domestic tomato industry.

We did this by successfully leveraging the threat of tariffs. Both the Commerce Department and the U.S. ITC investigated alleged dumping; and while the investigation was pending, Commerce imposed a 17 percent cash-deposit requirement on tomatoes from Mexico.  Meanwhile, we negotiated aggressively on behalf of the U.S. industry. And ultimately, in September 2019, we finalized the strongest agreement in history protecting U.S. tomato producers. It establishes reference prices for Mexican tomatoes and contains strong monitoring and enforcement provisions. It includes border inspections to prevent the importation of low-quality, poor-condition tomatoes from Mexico that can have price-suppressive effects on the market. The agreement also closes loopholes that had effectively permitted sales below the prior reference points. That was a major victory for American tomato farmers and generated $426 million in revenue for Florida tomato farmers in 2019 alone.

Since the beginning of the current administration, the Department of Commerce has initiated 281 new Antidumping and Countervailing Duty investigations ─ a 260 percent increase from the comparable period in the previous administration. We currently administer 531 AD/CVD orders against unfairly traded foreign goods ─ an all-time high. No other administration has ever come close to this level of trade enforcement activity. But we rely on American producers, their workers, and their representatives in Congress to alert us to unfair foreign trade policies and unfair pricing in the U.S. market.

Over the two days of these hearings, the trade enforcement team from the Commerce Department will listen to the oral testimony and will further study all of your written submissions. We are eager to hear from you about the obstacles you face in our own market, and what the Administration can do to address them.

Thank you, again, for the many long hours of hard work you do to feed our families with the highest quality food.

Leadership