Rep. Austin Scott Defends Georgia Farmers Against Unfair Trade Practices in Virtual Hearing with U.S. Trade Representative
WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Austin Scott (GA-08), a senior member of the House Agriculture Committee, released the below statement upon participating in a virtual hearing hosted by United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer examining foreign trade policies harming American growers of seasonal and perishable produce.
“Today’s hearing was an opportunity for President Trump’s top trade negotiator to hear from Georgia farmers firsthand on the severe effects of unfair practices and the need to protect our domestic supply chain, and it couldn’t have come at a more critical time as COVID-19 continues to negatively impact the farm economy,” said Rep. Austin Scott. “I thank Ambassador Lighthizer and his staff for hosting this virtual hearing today and their ongoing commitment to address foreign trade practices that harm American producers. I look forward to continuing to work with him and the President to find ways to give American farmers a square deal in our country’s trade negotiations.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, members of the Georgia and Florida Congressional Delegations, and other federal officials also participated in today’s virtual hearing. During the hearing, several Georgia farmers and industry stakeholders highlighted the severity of unfair trade practices and the impact to operations:
“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,” said Charles Hall, Executive Director of Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.
“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,” said Sam Watson of Chill C Farms in Moultrie.
“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,” said Bill Brim, President of Lewis Taylor Farms in Tifton.
This field hearing was one of two virtual hearings USTR conducted on unfair trading practices. The first was held on August 13 for producers in Florida. Today’s hearing with Georgia producers was originally scheduled for April 9, 2020 in Valdosta, Georgia, but was rescheduled due to COVID-19.
Below are Rep. Scott’s testimony remarks as prepared:
“Americans don't want to be dependent on the Middle East for fuel, China for pharmaceuticals, or Central and South America for their food supply
“Currently, the United States is fortunate to be one of the only countries in the world with an agricultural industry capable of feeding not only itself, but also its friends and neighbors around the world.
“That is changing. And while Americas large grocery retailers continue to post record profits, American farm families continue to stare at record losses.
“One of the biggest issues American producers currently face is the challenge of combating the ‘dumping’ of foreign subsidized crops into U.S. markets below the cost of production.
“Stopping unfair trade practices against American farmers, specifically producers of seasonal and perishable crops, is vital to U.S. agriculture independence.
“Unlike other crops such as corn, wheat, and rice, which I might add are also below the cost of production, producers of seasonal and perishable crops do not have the option of storing their yields until market prices stabilize.
“From harvest to market, fresh fruits and vegetables must be sold in a narrow window.
“In recent years, Mexico's increase of specialty crop exports to the United States under the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has had a profoundly negative impact on fresh fruit and vegetable sectors, resulting in a significant loss of farm revenue.
“To a great extent, Mexican fruit and vegetable producers have been able to achieve this extraordinary growth because of unfair Mexican subsidies, making it nearly impossible for American producers to compete.
“When American farmers face import surges and foreign dumping and subsidy practices, U.S. import remedies have provided little to no relief.
“That leaves American growers in important farming regions like Georgia, Florida and elsewhere far more exposed than they should be to unfair and often devastating import injury.
“Measures to modernize U.S. trade remedies for our growers are long overdue. During the early rounds of the NAFTA renegotiation, the Trump administration sought the ability for seasonal and perishable producers to pursue trade cases based on their U.S. marketing seasons.
“Dozens of our congressional colleagues have joined me in praising the Trump administration for seeking this change, and I look forward to continuing to work with the administration to find remedies and resources to aid farmers that have been hurt by unfair trade practices.
“When seasonal and perishable growers can prove that unfair trading practices are causing injury, they should have readily available tools to save their businesses and the thousands of jobs across rural America that support them.
“After years of bipartisan support for seasonal and perishable import-relief improvements, this administration is to be commended for taking the steps necessary to get those improvements done.”