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

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus.[CDC]
More COVID-19 exposures reported at schools in Kelowna

Interior Health added additional schools and dates to their list of exposures

Winter driving conditions returned to the Coquihalla Highway on April 10. (ICBC image)
Coquihalla motorists warned of fresh snow

Five to 10 cm of snow is expected today for the mountain highway.

Tom Smithwick has written a new book, Knocking On Freedom’s Door, about his experiences advocating for a drug addiction treatment program in Kelowna. (File photo)
‘Knocking On Freedom’s Door’: A retired Kelowna lawyer’s insights to mental illness, addiction

Freedom’s Doors advocate Tom Smithwick shares what he has learned from experiences of treatment program clients in new book

Royal LePage Arena was an addition to West Kelowna championed by Len Novakowski. (File photo)
West Kelowna community leader Novakowski dies

Former Westside regional district director Len Novakowski dies after lengthy health battle

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan describe vaccine rollout at the legislature, March 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
1,262 more COVID-19 infections in B.C. Friday, 9,574 active cases

Province’s mass vaccination reaches one million people

A vehicle that was driven through the wall of a parkade at Uptown Shopping Centre and into the nearby Walmart on April 9 was removed through another hole in the wall later that night. (Photo via Saanich Police Department and Ayush Kakkar)
Vehicle launched into B.C. Walmart removed following rescue of trapped workers

Crews cut new hole in parkade wall to remove vehicle safely

Four members with Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans were out at Cultus Lake on March 28 and 29 hauling trash out of the waters. (Henry Wang)
PHOTOS: Out-of-town divers remove 100s of pounds of trash from Cultus Lake

Members of Divers for Cleaner Lakes and Oceans hauled out 470 pounds of trash over two days

As of Saturday, April 10, people born in 1961 are the latest to be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. (Black Press files)
B.C. residents age 60+ can now register to get their COVID-19 vaccine

Vaccine registration is now open to people born in 1961 or earlier

A new saline gargle test, made in B.C., will soon be replacing COVID-19 nasal swab tests for kids. (PHSA screenshot)
Take-home COVID-19 tests available for some B.C. students who fall ill at school

BC Children’s Hospital plans to provide 1,200 kits to Vancouver district schools this April

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Sun Peaks is tracking rising COVID-19 cases. (Kamloops This Week Photo)
Sun Peaks sees spike in COVID-19 cases at end of ski season

On April 9, there were 15 positive cases confirmed.

Ruming Jiang and his dog Chiu Chiu are doing fine following a brush with hypothermia that saw several people work together to get them out of the Fraser River near Langley’s Derby Reach Park on March 25, 2021 (Special to the Advance Times)
Man finds men who rescued him from drowning in B.C.’s Fraser River

A grateful Ruming Jiang says he will thank them again, this time in person when the pandemic ends

Penticton Christian School. (Facebook)
COVID-19 exposure at South Okanagan independent school

The exposures are the latest in a quickly growing list in the Interior

Most Read