On Friday President Donald Trump hailed his vigorously sought-after update to the North American Free Trade Agreement — the quarter-century-old free-trade pact among the U.S., Canada and Mexico that the president has dubbed one of the worst deals in history.

With that rhetoric, the part-time Florida resident now occupying the White House would have gotten nods of agreement from farmers throughout the Sunshine State. Too bad the president didn’t consider them while taking his victory lap.

Dairy farmers think highly of the new version of NAFTA, called the United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement. The USMCA tears down barriers U.S. dairy producers face in accessing the market of America’s northern neighbor. Back in October, when the tentative details of the agreement were floated, an executive with Canada’s dairy trade association told Bloomberg News, “It’s a big win for the U.S. and well, for Canada, it’s a loss.”

Here in Florida, strawberry and tomato farmers feel those Canadians’ pain.

The trade groups behind those ag sectors hoped Trump and his negotiators would pressure American’s southern neighbor for restrictions to prevent the dumping of Mexican produce on U.S. markets. The effect of Mexican policies, including government subsidies to farmers, has significantly boosted production for growers south of the border, and throttled those north of it.

For instance, last month at an International Trade Commission hearing on the possible effects of the USMCA, executives of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association testified that Florida strawberry growers’ share of the American market has plunged by one-third since 2000 because cut-rate Mexican supplies are more attractive. Similarly, tomato output has plunged roughly 40 percent over the same time frame for the same reason. Mexican growers have seized that opening largely because of lower labor costs.

Trade reps for Florida produce growers told Bouffard they had hoped the Trump administration would at least obtain guarantees in the USMCA that would make it easier for farmers to bring anti-dumping complaints against Mexico. But that didn’t happen. “At the end of the day, Mexico drew a line on this,” observed Mike Stuart, the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association president.

Excluding avenues to fight unfair trade also upset Sen. Marco Rubio. He lashed out at the deal on Friday, tweeting, “As currently drafted this deal will put #Florida seasonal vegetable growers out of business. It allows #Mexico to dump government subsidized produce on the U.S. market. Going forward America will depend on Mexico for our winter vegetables. Unacceptable.”

Florida citrus producers also have felt the sting, which is why they back a bill by Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson that would permit regional interests to protest trade practices on a seasonal basis to the Commerce Department and the ITC. But that, too, is likely to meet resistance from U.S. lawmakers representing California growers. Who knew Florida’s farmers would have to battle their fellow Americans as much as the Mexicans?

 

A version of this editorial originally appeared in the Lakeland Ledger.