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

Alberta reported its highest number of daily COVID-19 cases since December 16 on Friday. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Alberta reports 1,521 additional COVID-19 cases, 674 new variant cases

Daily case total the highest since mid-December

County of Paintearth
County of Paintearth meeting highlights April 7th

Bylaw 698-21 was presented to council for first reading during their April 7th meeting of council

Supporters pray outside as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court in Stony Plain, Alta., on Wednesday Feb. 24, 2021, after being charged with holding Sunday services in violation of COVID-19 rules. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta church shut down, fenced off for ignoring COVID-19 health restrictions

Police and security staff were on hand as metal fencing was erected around the church building earlier today

A cross made out of hockey sticks at a makeshift memorial is silhouetted against the setting sun at the intersection of a fatal bus crash near Tisdale, Sask., on Monday, April, 9, 2018. A virtual tribute is planned to mark the third anniversary of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
VIDEO: Humboldt Broncos team to be honoured on third anniversary of fatal bus crash

16 people died and 13 were injured when a semi-trailer ran a stop sign into the path of the hockey team’s bus

Buckingham Palace officials say Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II, has died. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Alastair Grant
Flags drop, bells toll as Canadians remember special relationship with Prince Philip

‘He was often portrayed as a brisk or brusque, rough character… but it’s that other side of him, the caring individual who spent time with people and asked questions and showed compassion’

Vancouver’s park board general manager issued a new order Friday restricting tents and other temporary structures from being set up in Strathcona Park after April 30, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver park board issues order to restrict tents in Strathcona Park

The order issued Friday restricted tents and other temporary structures from being set up after April 30

Stettler’s own Renegade Station is kicking off the spring season with a brand new single - to be released April 9th. (Photo submitted)
A brand new single is on the way from Stettler-based band Renegade Station

Free Free Free hits all streaming platforms on April 9th

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau waits for a virtual meeting to begin with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Ottawa, Friday February 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Ottawa mulls exempting more workers from Canada-U.S. border shutdown: Garneau

Canada-U.S. border has been closed to people travelling for vacations and other non-essential visits since March 2020

A worker smooths concrete at a construction site in Toronto on January 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
Economy adds 303,000 jobs in March, unemployment rate falls: Statistics Canada

Figure released this morning outpaced the 259,000 gain seen in February

FILE - This file photo dated July 10, 1947 shows the official photograph of Britain’s Princess Elizabeth and her fiance, Lieut. Philip Mountbatten in London. Buckingham Palace says Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, has died aged 99. (AP Photo/File)
Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, dies at 99

Philip spent a month in hospital earlier this year before being released on March 16

Campbell River city council will continue its 2020 policy of waiving late fees and NSFs. (Mirror File photo)
53% of Canadians teetering the brink of insolvency: survey

A majority of Canadians admit they’re just $200 away from not being able to pay their monthly bills

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney listens as the 2021 budget is delivered in Edmonton Alta, on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Kenney faces criticism from doctors, his own caucus, over new COVID-19 health rules

Alberta now has more than 10,000 active cases, about 43 per cent are variants

Most Read