FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 26, 2004
Schumer: Average Long Island Potato Grower Losing Thousands Each Year Because Of Unfair Canadian Practices
Canadian potatoes and other produce are flooding the NY Market while LI bulk potatoes are not allowed to be shipped to Canada; As a result, LI commercial potato growers could lose as much as $30,000 each per year – fruit producers negatively impacted as well
With Long Island’s once great potato industry now reduced to just a handful of growers, US Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the US Department of Commerce to investigate the effect of unfair Canadian trade practices on Long Island farmers and recommend actions to compensate them. Schumer today released a new analysis estimating that growers in the region may have lost $15,000 to $30,000 per year in potential sales as a result of unfair Canadian restrictions on imports, while Canadian potatoes flow into New York markets almost unabated.
"Canada has thumbed its nose at NAFTA and the World Trade Organization and the result has been economic damage to Long Island farmers. It's not enough to simply tell the Canadians not to do it again. We need to protect our farmers by putting our foot down and the only way to do that is to watch Canada like a hawk. If we don't stay on them, who will? Because there's no regulatory agency to ensure their compliance, it's up to us and us alone," Schumer said.
Canada effectively blocks imports of Long Island potatoes and other produce by setting a higher standard for granting “ministerial exemptions” to allow the import of bulk US agriculture produce than it does for domestic bulk shipments. For US imports either the province receiving the imports or the neighboring provinces can object to the shipment on the grounds that there is a domestic source of the produce. For domestic shipments only the receiving province needs to approve the bulk shipment. Schumer said today that Canada’s practice of treating imports less favorably than the same domestic products violates both World Trade Organization (WTO) and North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) rules.
This barrier to trade makes bulk shipment of many fruits and vegetables from New York farms difficult, eliminating many opportunities to sell to food processors in Canada due to the time, effort and uncertainty necessary to request such a “ministerial exemption.” While it is difficult to estimate the value in lost business because many growers and processors do not even attempt to ship bulk produce to Canada, the National Potato Council has estimated that nationally the restrictions cost US growers near the Canadian border $25-30 million per year. There is anecdotal evidence that apple growers have also had bulk orders fall through due to this restriction and experts believe it may be a problem for other vegetable crops as well. According to the National Potato Council and production numbers from the USDA, the estimated result of these practices by the Canadians – which violate both WTO and NAFTA rules – is that commercial Long Island potato growers will each lose between $15,000 and $30,000 per year. Schumer said today that because the Long Island potato industry has long been an inextricable part of the island’s history, the damage to this industry is more than just economic. “It used to be that when you drove through some parts of Long Island, you’d see a potato farm every which way you looked,” Schumer said. “The sad fact is that those days are over. And if we don’t do something soon, the situation will only get worse. We need to stand up for our potato growers and that means getting tough with Canada on this.”
Long Island Farm Bureau Vice-President Bob Nolan said, “Long Island Farm Bureau is one of the few Farm Bureaus in the country to express concern over NAFTA and GATT. We believe that “Free Trade” is different than fair trade. Canada and Mexico have prompted concern to New York Growers, and Long Island, as they have taken advantage of our markets in the tri-state area. At the same time Canada has limited access to their markets to NY producers. In addition, Canada holds a distinct advantage over us due to the exchange rate, as well as providing growers with hidden subsidies that puts us at a competitive disadvantage. We thank Senator Schumer for his efforts and for looking to correct the balance of trade.”
To combat the Canadian practices, Schumer today urged the federal government to investigate the matter immediately and take actionable measures to compensate Long Island’s growers and farmers. Schumer sent a letter to Donald L. Evans, Secretary of the US Commerce Department, urging him to study the Canadians’ trade practices and take compensatory action where appropriate. In addition, Schumer today urged the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Robert B. Zoellick to press the Canadians on this matter in formal negotiations that the two nations have begun. In July Schumer and eleven other members of Congress wrote to Evans to support the National Potato Council’s request for an investigation before the Unfair Trade Practices Task Force. In September Schumer wrote with 30 other members of Congress to the Canadian Ambassador asking Canada to work with the United States to resolve the problem.
Other vegetable and fruit producers in Long Island also are likely impacted by the unfair Canadian rules because anyone selling bulk produce would be affected, including growers of apples, onions, and other vegetables from larger farms.