U.S. Trade Representative requests ITC investigation into bell peppers, strawberries

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U.S. Trade Representative requests ITC investigation into bell peppers, strawberries

The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is requesting an investigation into imports of strawberries and bell peppers, weeks after a similar investigation was announced for blueberry imports.

In an Election Day letter to the chair of the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), Robert Lighthizer, asked the body to “monitor and investigate imports of strawberries and bell peppers".

Such an investigation could lead to market barriers such as tariffs.

At the beginning of September, the Trump administration announced plans to help U.S. farmers who it says are 'threatened' by rising imports of seasonal fruit and vegetables from Mexico. At the time it named blueberries, bell peppers and strawberries as targets.

One month later - and as mentioned in the September announcement - the USTR asked the ITC to initiate a Section 201 global safeguard investigation into the extent to which increased imports of blueberries - from all origins - have caused serious injury or threat thereof to domestic blueberry growers. That investigation could result in tariffs, marketing orders or import quotas.

Now the USTR is requesting the ITC monitors and investigates imports of strawberries and bell peppers, under section 322 of the Tariff Act of 1930.

"I request that the monitoring and investigation include the collection and analysis of information that would expedite investigations under [Section 322]," he said in the letter.

The products in question consist of all imports of fresh or chilled strawberries and fresh or chilled bell peppers. Imports of these products come mainly from Mexico.

Lighthizer added that the request came after numerous Florida-based grower associations on Oct. 6 requested that imports of such products be monitored.

“Our industry is essential in feeding Americans fresh U.S.-grown produce from November to late spring,” said Mike Joyner, president of the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association, during August comments in support of action by the USTR.

“However, our ability to do so has severely eroded over the last few decades because of unfair trade practices by Mexico, which shares our growing seasons.”

However, Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Nogales-based Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, said: “If the U.S. takes action on this, it encourages trading partners — Mexico and Canada — to consider similar options for other trade areas."

Such trade tensions could undermine the recently implemented United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade deal, he added.

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