USTR says it won't open Section 301 investigation into Mexican produce
The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) announced on Sunday that it would not open an investigation into imports of Mexican produce, as had been requested by Florida ag groups in September.
However, the USTR said that it would "pursue avenues to assist the Southeast seasonal produce industry" in coordination with the USDA.
"The Biden Administration recognizes that Southeast producers have faced challenges, which have only intensified since Hurricane Ian made landfall earlier this month. USTR will establish a private-sector industry advisory panel to recommend measures to promote the competitiveness of producers of seasonal and perishable produce in the southeastern United States," the USTR said in a statement.
"USTR and USDA will work with the advisory panel and Members of Congress to develop possible administrative actions and legislation that would provide real benefits to this struggling industry."
The Section 301 petition, which was filed on Sept. 8, 2022 by certain Members of Florida’s Congressional delegation, alleged that the Government of Mexico has adopted an “export targeting” scheme aimed at Florida produce.
The 301 statute requires that USTR make a decision on whether to move forward with an investigation within 45 days. The statute also includes a private-sector advisory panel as a specific response to export targeting.
"Although USTR could not conclude in the 45-day statutory period that a formal 301 investigation would be effective and is not opening an investigation at this time, USTR is moving forward with an advisory panel, and USTR and USDA will work with the petitioners and producers to examine the issues raised in the petition and to consider any further actions that may be appropriate," it said.
Various agricultural groups in the U.S. welcomed the USTR's decision.
Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, said: “The claim was meritless from the onset. USTR absolutely made the right decision to reject the baseless request from Senator Rubio, who has made this an election-year issue."
The FPAA said that if the USTR had initiated a 301 Investigation, it could have "drastically added to food inflation by increasing the price of fruits and vegetables at a time when Americans can least afford it".
"Such an action would have also resulted in retaliatory tariffs or quotas on American farmers who export to Mexico, America’s second largest export market," it said.
Meanwhile, Jim Bair, president & CEO of the U.S. Apple Association, said: “A Section 301 investigation could have been followed by tariffs on imported produce and, in turn, retaliatory tariffs from Mexico.
"That has happened in the past where U.S. apples were the targets of retaliation. We acknowledge that other sectors of the fresh produce industry are facing their own difficult challenges, but the U.S. Trade Representative came to the correct conclusion, and we are thankful."