(June 20) Since 1995, U.S. specialty crop exports have risen in value by 7%, but U.S. imports in that category spiked by 60%.

That gap could widen even more if the U.S. fails to win concessions in trade negotiations, said a spokesman for a coalition of Arizona and California industry leaders.

Pierre Tada, chairman of the Agricultural Coalition on Trade — representing fruit, vegetable and nut organizations in California and Arizona — testified June 18 for the House Agriculture Committee hearing on agricultural trade negotiations.

Tada said the U.S. proposal in the Doha Round of World Trade Organization negotiations falls short in protecting fruit and vegetable interests.

“Past trade agreements have provided only marginal opportunities for U.S. specialty crop exports,” he said, noting the continuing barriers of high domestic subsidies in Japan and Europe, phytosanitary barriers in Japan and high tariffs in developing countries.

Unfortunately, the U.S. position calls for a simple reduction in domestic support rather than elimination of domestic support, Tada said.

“Going into the Doha Round, our industry strongly urged our U.S. trade policy officials to propose total elimination of agricultural trade-distorting domestic subsidies,” he said.

While the U.S. proposal calls for elimination of export subsidies and, eventually, tariffs, its failure to call for elimination of domestic support is disappointing, Tada sad.

“The European specialty crop industry will still be provided billions of dollars in subsidies, while the U.S. industry has zero dollars,” he said.

What’s more, Tada said it was troubling that U.S. negotiators have called for reduction in domestic agricultural support in the aggregate and not by specific sector.

That puts the U.S. industry at a disadvantage, he said, since the U.S. fruit and vegetable has no subsidy to reduce while Europe can reduce their subsidies to the fruit and vegetable sector and still funnel between $5 billion to $10 billion into the sector.

The U.S. has no direct trade-distorting subsidies to fruit and vegetable growers — referred to as amber box — which would be subject to reduction in WTO negotiations. However, growers do benefit from “green box” benefits such as export promotion and disaster assistance. Green box benefits are not considered trade distorting and therefore are not subject to reduction.

Tada also called for U.S. negotiators to eliminate Europe’s entry price system, harmonize country-of-origin labeling requirements of WTO countries and allow the U.S. industry to receive countervailing duty benefits against any industry in a WTO country that is receiving a trade-distorting domestic subsidy.

“If subsidies for foreign producers are allowed to continue, what then is available to the U.S. industry to help in providing relief against imported subsidized products?” he asked.

In other testimony, Andrew Lavigne, executive vice president of Florida Citrus Mutual, told the committee that the group opposes any reduction in U.S. orange tariffs under the Free Trade Area of the Americas or any trade agreement Brazil is a part of. He argued that a reduction in the tariff could spell the end of the processing industry in Florida and could ultimately lead to higher prices for consumers.