NOGALES, Ariz. - A trade dispute could cost you more at the grocery store and hurt a billion dollar industry for Southern Arizona. That’s what Mexican produce importers fear could happen in a fight over Mexican blueberries and peppers. Growers in the U.S. say Mexican growers are flooding the market with produce so cheap they can’t compete.
About $1.4 billion in produce came through Arizona from Mexico in just the first three months of this year---that’s according to the University of Arizona. We often think of Mexican tomatoes. They are the biggest share of the business, but other fruits and vegetables are important parts of the industry too.
Now, there’s a fight over blueberries and items like peppers.
Growers in Florida and Georgia complained to Federal Trade representatives that Mexican berries and peppers are unfair competition with higher volumes and lower prices.
Brittany Lee, the executive director of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association spoke at a Federal Trade hearing.
She said, “The current climate where Mexican blueberries are being sold significantly below the price that it costs to grow, pick and pack our blueberries here in Florida is absolutely crippling our Florida blueberry farms, it's crippling my family farm.”
The Fresh Produce Association of the Americas represents U.S. companies that sell Mexican produce. Association Director Lance Jungmeyer says U.S. growers did not convince Federal authorities to put trade penalties on Mexico but did convince authorities to investigate claims of unfair prices on blueberries from any country that might sell them into the U-S.
Jungmeyer says that could lead to tariffs that could raise costs for consumers.
“So whereas consumers were used to seeing $1.99 in the grocery stores, almost weekly, you might see that price go up, because of lack of availability, we might go back into the 2.99 or 3.99 range. We don't want that to happen.”
Jungmeyer says local companies are worried about the dispute.
“If we see that the economy of distributing fresh produce is harmed in the same way that we've seen that the economy in southern Arizona, retail, on services businesses are harmed will have a real bad mess on our hands here in the economy locally.”
Jungmeyer says there’s a 90 day negotiating period. He hopes that will defuse what could be an expensive dispute.