Blueberry sector faces retaliation

British Columbia’s blueberry growers are facing a United States trade investigation that could threaten their industry.

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) wants to see whether American farmers are being hurt by berry imports from B.C. growers, who produce about 86,000 tonnes of blueberries annually and export 70 percent of the crop, mostly to the U.S. and Japan.

Ravi Kahlon, B.C minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation, and Lana Popham, minister of agriculture, food and fisheries, issued a joint statement at the end of December saying they will defend the industry and work with the federal government and B.C. Blueberry Council.

“The U.S. ITC could recommend tariffs or quotas if it finds U.S. blueberry growers are injured or are threatened to be injured by imports. In the meantime, B.C. growers face mounting legal fees and economic uncertainty. This impacts many of the hard-working people who rely on agriculture to provide for their families,” they said in the statement.

The first hearing into the investigation was scheduled Jan. 12.

Kahlon told the CBC last month that Canada imports more blueberries than it exports to the U.S., which makes the investigation somewhat ironic.

Figures from the blueberry council indicate B.C. growers produced 86,000 tonnes of blueberries in 2019, which is nearly all of Canada’s highbush blueberry production. In its Report on Seasonal and Perishable Products in U.S. Commerce, released in September, the U.S trade representative said it would investigate “the extent to which increased imports of blueberries have caused serious injury to domestic blueberry growers.”

It plans to employ a little-used section of policy that “does not require a finding of an unfair trade practice. Rather, an increase in imports — irrespective of the reason for the imports — is by itself sufficient to warrant a trade remedy, provided the increase is ‘a substantial cause of serious injury, or the threat thereof, to the domestic industry producing an article like or directly competitive with the imported article.’”

USTR figures show Chile is the largest exporter of blueberries to the U.S. by volume and Peru is largest by value, exporting $485 million worth of blueberries to the U.S. in 2019. Canada exported berries worth $115 million in that same year, making it the fourth largest exporter to the U.S. behind Peru, Chile and Mexico.

Results of public hearings noted in the USTR report indicate most concern about blueberry imports has arisen from growers in Florida and Georgia, who are concerned about Mexican imports in particular.

However, Washington and Oregon are the top blueberry producing states.

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