(June 19) LAKELAND, Fla. — In a politically pivotal year that includes key congressional seats and a gubernatorial race, Florida’s citrus industry is attempting to turn up the heat on policymakers in its efforts to protect its product from tariffs in Europe.

Bob Crawford, executive director of the Lakeland-based Florida Department of Citrus, is urging President Bush and Florida Gov. Jeb Bush to act quickly to settle the growing trade dispute over European steel imports that has enveloped Florida’s citrus industry.

In letters to the president and the governor June 18, Crawford expressed growing concern over the European Union’s recent decision to impose tariffs of up to 100% on Florida citrus products that, he says, violate international trade law and WTO procedures.

Crawford called the actions by the EU “a dangerous precedent,” posing a threat to European consumers and Florida citrus growers. He called upon the president and the governor to ensure that the EU understands the consequences of opening a trade war with the U.S. involving agricultural products.

“Mr. President, we cannot sit passively while our industry is singled out as the casualty of a trade war,” Crawford wrote. “I urge you to pursue all measures available to the United States under the WTO, including retaliatory tariffs on EU agricultural products.

“From our standpoint, any decision by the EU to unilaterally retaliate against citrus fruit and other products is wrong and unprecedented in the history of the WTO dispute settlement procedures. Dragging agricultural products, like citrus, into a dispute centered on steel is a dangerous precedent in itself. This is a short-sighted, politically motivated action and only stands to hurt European consumers and the Florida citrus industry.”

The EU has targeted other agricultural products, as well, including apples and pears from the Pacific Northwest and fruit from California.

The letters are in response to the ongoing trade dispute between the EU and the U.S. over President Bush’s decision in March to increase tariffs on imported steel.