A recent Congressional Research Service study suggests that while fresh fruits and vegetables sent to the U.S. face minimal tariffs, U.S. exporters often must pay to play.

The U.S. was a net exporter of fruits and vegetables until the mid-1990s, according to the report, which states that the disparity between U.S. duties and those other countries impose is significant and may be a key reason export growth has failed to keep pace with imports.

Foreign suppliers’ open access to the U.S. supports importers and brokers in the the U.S., and it is good for consumers too, helping ensure year-round availability and access to products that can’t be produced here.

But free-trade policies must be reciprocal if they are to have any real meaning.

The import/export imbalance for fresh produce will persist as long as the U.S. allows commodities to enter the country under duty-free access while other countries slap levies on U.S. exporters that ship fresh produce to them.

Produce trade groups — those with an industrywide focus as well as commodity-specific boards — must make sure their voices are heard in Washington, D.C., to ensure open and equitable markets with all trading partner nations.

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