Canadian blueberries could be next in US sights

Canadian blueberries are big business. Big enough to be next in line for American tariffs.

Last month, the United States Department of Commerce asked the country's International Trade Commission to investigate whether imported blueberries are seriously harming American producers. It's an unprecedented move that could hit British Columbia (BC) hard: blueberries are BC's third largest export and about 95% of them are sold in the US.

“This could have a negative impact in terms of the value of the product,” said Anju Gill, executive director of the BC Blueberry Council, adding that “it is too early to do any kind of speculation (yet) because we don't know what the commercial solutions will be ( recommended by the research) ”.

Last year, British Columbia farmers grew around 86.000 tonnes of blueberries, while exports of the fruit were worth around $ 242 million in 2018. Most were shipped to the US, along with blueberry growers in the Maritime This makes Canada the fourth largest supplier of this fruit in the country, with approximately US $ 132 million in berries exported south of the border each year since 2014.

Still, we are not alone. Chile has been a major supplier for some time, and in the past seven years, Mexico and Peru have also become major players in the industry, with US imports from those countries doubling in that time.

That has caused concern among blueberry growers in Georgia, Florida and other Republican states in the southeastern United States. And this concern has prompted the Trump administration to ask the U.S. International Trade Commission, an independent federal judicial body that adjudicates trade-related matters, to investigate whether imports are hurting U.S. blueberry producers.

The commission should make its decision in about four months. An investigation called “Section 201” examines the impact that imports have on domestic blueberry producers and, if it finds that there is a significant negative impact on these farms, it gives the President of the United States several options to protect the domestic industry. Tariffs and other barriers to imports are among those measures.

“It is a special safeguard. Basically, what (US blueberry growers) are arguing is that they've been overwhelmed, ”said Al Mussell, a research leader at Agri-Food Economic Systems Inc., an Ontario-based research organization that studies economics. agricultural. "It is a safeguard because protectionist measures implemented after a Section 201 investigation are exempt from international trade regulations," he added.

He added that this type of investigation is unique because, unlike other protectionist measures, it assesses the impact of all imports on American farmers, regardless of their country of origin. "That means that Canadian blueberries will be evaluated alongside Chilean, Mexican and Peruvian imports," he said.

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