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

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, 66, died Tuesday at Chinook Regional Hospital. (Cornerstone Funeral Home)
Lethbridge doctor becomes 7th Alberta health-care worker to die from COVID-19

Dr. Wayne John Edwards, who was 66, died Tuesday at the Chinook Regional Hospital in the southern Alberta city

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
O’Toole to vote against Conservative MP’s private bill on ‘sex-selective abortion’

Erin O’Toole said he supports a woman’s right to choose and will personally vote against the private member’s bill

Pall Bearers carrying the coffin of the Duke of Edinburgh, followed by the Prince of Wales, left and Princess Anne, right, into St George’s Chapel for his funeral, at Windsor Castle, in Windsor, England, Saturday April 17, 2021. (Danny Lawson/Pool via AP)
Trudeau announces $200K donation to Duke of Edinburgh award as Prince Philip laid to rest

A tribute to the late prince’s ‘remarkable life and his selfless service,’ the Prime Minister said Saturday

A vial of some of the first 500,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada secured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio
Canada’s 2nd blood clot confirmed in Alberta after AstraZeneca vaccine

The male patient, who is in his 60s, is said to be recovering

The funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip in Windsor, England, on Saturday, April 17, 2021. Philip died April 9 at the age of 99. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
PHOTOS: Prince Philip laid to rest Saturday as sombre queen sits alone

The entire royal procession and funeral took place out of public view within the grounds of Windsor Castle

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau looks on as Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Expectations high as Trudeau Liberals get ready to unveil first pandemic budget

The Liberals will look to thread an economic needle with Monday’s budget

Doses of the Moderna COVID‑19 vaccine in a freezer trailer, to be transported to Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Pfizer to increase vaccine deliveries in Canada as Moderna supply slashed

Moderna plans to ship 650,000 doses of its vaccine to Canada by the end of the month, instead of the expected 1.2 million

A empty classroom is pictured at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. The Alberta government says schools in Calgary will move to at-home learning starting Monday for students in grades 7 to 12.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calgary schools to shift to at-home learning for grades 7 to 12 due to COVID-19

The change, due to COVID-19, is to last for two weeks

A man wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
COVID-19 spike in B.C. could overwhelm B.C. hospitals: modelling group

There are 397 people are in hospital due to the virus, surpassing a previous high of 374 seen in December

Most Read