Georgia Fruit and Vegetable producers joined Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association Executive Director Charles Hall Aug. 20 to testify before U.S. trade officials about the crisis Georgia farmers are facing because of a staggering increase in imported produce from Mexico fueled by unfair trade practices that leave Georgia farmers in a fight for their future.
The second hearing conducted by the office of the U.S. Trade Representative included testimony from Georgia elected officials, U.S. Congressmen Austin Scott, Buddy Carter and Doug Collins, as well as Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black. A host of Georgia farmers testified to the damaging impacts of subsidized imports including Joe Cornelius, Russ Goodman, Sam Watson, Bill Brim, Steve McMillan and Dick Minor. Their message was clear; without a remedy to level the economic playing field, Georgia producers will lose their ability to make a living growing fruits and vegetables.
Georgia’s elected officials also urged USTR to use all tools at their disposal to bring balance to the trade relationship with Mexico. Commissioner Black focused on the health of farms and reminded USTR that dysfunctional trade can be life threatening to every American farmer. Scott and Carter noted the growing exposure Georgia growers have to Mexican imports and warned of the impact a lack of action will have on rural Georgia economies.
Hall testified that a remedy is desperately needed. “Over the past twenty years, imports of fresh produce from Mexico have grown tremendously. The pattern has now shifted from undercutting our growers financial and competitive health, to threatening our industry’s very survival. You have seen the numbers and they are staggering." Hall noted Mexican imports have increased by 551 percent since 2001 as the Mexican government has subsidized a massive increase in protected agriculture infrastructure and acreage.
Sam Watson of Chill C Farms in Moultrie testified, “as a 5th generation farmer I feel certain that due to these unfair practices I will be the last generation of farmers in my family.”
Bill Brim, President of Lewis Taylor Farms in Tifton, produces a variety of fruits and vegetables on 5,500 acres. His testimony also expressed his deep concern for the future. “Despite our 71‐year history, and despite the support of our dedicated employees, our future is in serious jeopardy. Quickly rising imports, primarily from Mexico, are on the verge of putting us out of business. We are experiencing a rapid destruction of the Southeastern fruit and vegetable production sector by reason of imports.”
Hall thanked Ambassador Lighthizer for his commitment to the Georgia and Florida congressional delegations to announce a plan within sixty days of the USMCA’s entry into force. Hall also asked for a commitment from the U.S. government to defend the interests and ability of our southeastern fruit and vegetable growers to be able to survive in the short-term and thrive in the long-term. While echoing Florida’s request for a 301 investigation, Hall asked that every import relief tool available be utilized to allow southeastern growers to compete fairly.