FILE - In this Aug. 24, 2018 file photo, a worker pours wild blueberries into a tray at a farm in Union, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

FILE - In this Aug. 24, 2018 file photo, a worker pours wild blueberries into a tray at a farm in Union, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File)

Canadian blueberries no threat to U.S. producers, embassy tells trade commission

Blueberry imports from Mexico appear to be the primary concern, particularly for southern producers

Canadian blueberry farmers and embassy officials pushed back Tuesday against claims that U.S. producers are being driven out of business by cheap imports from north of the border.

At the request of Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. International Trade Commission is investigating complaints about blueberry imports from several countries, including Mexico, Chile, Peru and Canada.

The argument from Nadia Bourely, the Canadian Embassy’s minister-counsellor for economic and trade policy, boiled down to a simple premise: we’re not the problem.

“We find it very difficult to see how blueberry imports, particularly imports from Canada, could have caused any injury to the U.S. blueberry industry,” Bourely told an online hearing.

Between 2015 and 2019, she said, U.S. imports from Canada grew by only 15 per cent, while total imports grew nearly 56 per cent.

If anything, U.S. growers have benefited from accessing the Canadian market, said Bourely, who urged commissioners to consider each country’s impact in isolation, rather than lumping them together.

“U.S. and Canadian producers are highly integrated and this integration has worked to the overwhelming benefit of the U.S. industry … the only real increase in trade flows between our countries has been northbound.”

Bourely acknowledged an isolated increase in 2019, which she attributed to a single multinational producer moving large quantities of frozen berries from its Canadian storage facilities to those in the United States.

“These were not ‘imports’ in any economic sense in 2019, but were internal movements by a company with operations on both sides of the border, with no sales to customers at the time of their movement,” she said.

“As a result, not only do Canadian imports have appreciably lower rates of growth, in fact they have not grown at all.”

Canadian berry growers have been girding for battle ever since October, when Lighthizer — long a champion of the protectionist instincts of President Donald Trump, who was at the time facing a difficult re-election fight — indicated he was planning to mobilize the commission.

Lighthizer cited in particular the fact that U.S. farmers spent much of last year struggling to deal with the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Blueberry imports from Mexico appear to be the primary concern, particularly for southern producers. But Canadian producers have been caught in the squeeze — and singled out by farmers in northern states like Oregon and Michigan.

Oregon producer Hugh Eisele objected to a “flood of imports” from Canada and Peru in recent years, which he said has undercut his businesses to the point where they no longer make money.

“Our problems are made worse by increasingly low (cost) imports from Canada,” where producers can take advantage of the lower Canadian dollar, Eisele told the hearing.

“Our costs are not much different from our Canadian counterparts, but the Canadian exporters are able to leverage exchange rates to undersell the market and kill the early and midseason prices.”

Rex Schultz, president of the Michigan Blueberry Advisory Committee, said shipments from Canada tend to enter the country without specific buyers already lined up.

“Canadian farmers prioritize cash flow and are willing to send product to this market at what seems like any price, fresh or frozen,” Schultz said.

“As a result, Canadian fruit — both fresh and frozen — keeps prices in the United States very low.”

Roughly 98 per cent of Canadian blueberry exports go to the U.S., but Canada is the world’s single largest importer of American-grown blueberries by a wide margin, and the two industries are deeply integrated.

Maine, which did not take part in Tuesday’s hearing, has spoken out on behalf of producers in Canada.

The state is home to the bulk of the country’s wild-blueberry industry and has an expansive processing operation that’s heavily dependent on bulk imports from Canada.

Processors use excess capacity in their systems to turn those perishable berries into frozen products ready for distribution and sale, some of the state’s congressional members told Lighthizer last year.

READ MORE: U.S. blueberry trade action could affect 800 B.C. growers

James McCarten, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

AgricultureUSA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

NH representative confirmed that people who received their first dose will be scheduled to receive their second dose within the recommended timeframe.(The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette photo)
Vaccine rollout abruptly halted in Lakes District

Northern Health cites Pfizer shipment delays for the vaccine distribution disruption

This BC Hydro map shows some of the power outages across Northern BC. Many were caused by high winds. (BC Hydro Website)
Power out across much of Northern BC

BC Hydro anticipates some may be without power overnight

Administering naloxone to a person experiencing a benzo-related overdose event won’t help. Naloxone is used to neutralize opioids. (Jenna Hauck/The Progress file photo)
Northern Health warning drug users of potential benzo contamination

The drug does not respond to naloxone, and is being included in street drugs

The B.C. Government increased limited entry hunt (LEH) authorizations of cow/calf moose by 43 animals in 2020 in mountain caribou recovery areas near Revelstoke and Prince George. (Wikipedia Commons)
Cow moose and calf harvest numbers expected by May

No wolves culled yet; cull scheduled for 2021 winter

The BC Government’s Rural Dividend Fund extension would help revamp the village brand. (Priyanka Ketkar photo/Lakes District News)
Village to unveil its new brand on Jan. 22

Gets extension on province’s Rural Dividend Fund grant

Syringe is prepared with one of B.C.’s first vials of Pfizer vaccine to prevent COVID-19, Victoria, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 caseload stays steady with 465 more Tuesday

No new outbreaks in health care facilities, 12 more deaths

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canadian malls, conference centres, hotels offer up space for COVID vaccination centres

Commercial real estate association REALPAC said that a similar initiative was seeing success in the U.K.

Flags line the National Mall towards the Capitol Building as events get underway for President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States

About 25,000 National Guard members have been dispatched to Washington

A memorial for the fatal bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 near Tisdale, Tuesday, October 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
‘End of the road:’ Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

Sidhu was sentenced almost two years ago to eight years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving

Cumberland photographer Sara Kemper recently took the top spot in a Canadian Geographic photography contest. Photo by Sara Kemper
B.C. photographer takes top Canadian Geographic photo prize

Sara Kemper shows what home means to her in Comox Valley photo

New Westminster TV production designer, Rick Whitfield, has designed an office in a box for British Columbians in need of a private workspace. (BC Box Office photo)
PHOTOS: B.C. man designs ‘box office’ solution for those working from home

‘A professionally designed workspace on your property, away from the distractions of home’

Chilliwack ER doctor Marc Greidanus is featured in a video, published Jan. 18, 2021, where he demonstrates and describes effectiveness of various styles of masks. (Youtube)
VIDEO: Emergency room doctor runs through pros and cons of various masks

‘We’ve been asked to wear a mask and it’s not that hard,’ Greidanus says.

(Pixabay photo)
VIDEO: Tip to Metro Vancouver transit police helps woman 4,000 km away in Ohio

Sgt. Clint Hampton says transit police were alerted to a YouTube video of the woman in mental distress

A woman types on her laptop in Miami in a Monday, Dec. 12, 2016, photo illustration. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Wilfredo Lee
British Columbia government lax on cybersecurity practices, auditor reports

The audit did not highlight a specific threat, but it found breaches in cybersecurity are increasing globally

Most Read