(June 7) U.S. asparagus growers didn’t receive any breaks in the recently passed Andean Trade Preference Act, though industry leaders and some members of Congress had worked to protect the commodity from Peruvian imports.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., had offered an amendment that was blocked by Republicans from being included in the bill that passed the Senate on May 23. The amendment would have put limits on the volume of duty-free asparagus from Andean countries.

The trade bill, including trade promotion authority, is subject to a conference committee to iron out differences between House and Senate versions of the bill.

The committee was expected to take all of June and possibly longer to tool the final version that will be submitted to Congress and then to the president.

PERUVIAN COMPETITION

During floor debate May 23, Stabenow said many growers in Michigan forecast an end to domestic asparagus production if conditions don’t change.

“Last year alone growers in Michigan lost $2.9 million due to competing duty-free asparagus imported from Peru,” she said.

Stabenow said she supported the goal of the act to encourage economic growth in Andean nations as an alternative to the production and export of illegal drugs, “but not at the expense of the entire domestic asparagus industry.”

She said Peru’s shipments of fresh asparagus have increased from 14.55% of total imports to 41.3%; Peru’s import market share of frozen asparagus has risen from 3% to 71%.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service reports that fresh and frozen imports of asparagus increased from $24 million in 1997 to $51 million in 2001.

Stabenow’s amendment would have allowed preferential treatment of Andean asparagus to a certain volume limit and then established a safeguard for domestic growers. Her amendment would have allowed Andean imports of duty-free asparagus up to 30% of total U.S. imports of asparagus. Once the 30% threshold was met, duty-free treatment would be suspended for the remainder of the calendar year.

VOWS TO CONTINUE

Despite the failure of the amendment to make it into the Senate’s omnibus trade bill, Stabenow vowed to continue to work on the issue and consider other program, such as market loss assistance payments, that would provide relief to growers.

Perry DeKryger, executive director of the Michigan Asparagus Advisory Board, DeWitt, said Peru has had a big impact on U.S. growers.

Michigan produces about 30 million pounds of asparagus, of which about 24 million pounds are processed and 6 million pounds are sold fresh.

Peru’s impact on the processing market — particularly frozen asparagus — is causing more Michigan product to be sold fresh, he said. Michigan still has the advantage in the fresh market.

“It’s pretty tough for Peru to compete in the Cleveland or Indianapolis market; we’re are overnight from those cities,” he said.

He said Michigan growers wanted asparagus to be exempted from duty-free access, considering the rapid gains Peru has made in the U.S. market in the past 10 years.