Lawmakers and food industry groups are jockeying to shape President Joe Biden‘s international trade policies, even as the administration sets priorities on the coronavirus pandemic, the vaccine rollout, and economic revitalization.
Trade “almost has to be a back burner issue to a degree,” said Joseph Glauber, senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute.
Still, different sectors of the food industry — from blueberry growers to wine and spirits distributors and importers — are vying for the new administration’s attention, hoping to ease their plights by ironing out trade mishaps.
President Donald Trump‘s trade wars hurt agriculture producers reliant on foreign markets, although his administration tried to mitigate the damage with government subsidies.
Now, it’s Biden’s move, and he may start with China.
The president “will take a multilateral approach to engaging with China, and that includes evaluating the tariffs currently in place,” said Press Secretary Jen Psaki at a Monday briefing. “He wants to ensure that we take any steps in coordination with our allies and partners, and with Democrats and Republicans in Congress.”
Biden may adopt a more “internationalist” trade approach than his predecessor, and “be much more inclined to work with other countries on issues,” said Glauber, who previously served as the Agriculture Department’s chief economist.
Glauber praised U.S. Trade Representative nominee Katherine Tai as “almost perfect for the job,” given her experience as chief counsel for USTR’s China trade enforcement and strong relationship with lawmakers. She’d make a “good team” with Agriculture Secretary nominee Tom Vilsack, he added.
White House press officials didn’t respond to a request for further comment.
Trade Sectors ‘Still Suffering’
More than 70 trade associations — some representing U.S. interests, others based in Europe — urged Biden and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to eradicate or at least suspend tariffs tied to an international dispute over aircraft subsidies. The U.S. duties extend to European wine, spirits, and food.
Bars and restaurants forced to shutter at the pandemic’s onset are still held to rigid state and local restrictions, and tariffs only hurt those businesses further, the industry said.
“With the damages we have suffered last year and are still suffering, the current situation cannot be allowed to go on any longer,” the groups said in a Monday letter. “Removal of these tariffs will provide the positive momentum to reset the important bilateral relationship and cooperative efforts to address global economic challenges.”
The Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. — one of the letter’s signatories — repeatedly pressed Trump’s USTR office to lift the duties, to no avail. The agency put in place additional tariffs on certain non-sparkling wine, cognac, and other grape brandies from France and Germany, along with other products, in late December.
‘Devastating’ Blueberry Industry
Biden’s campaign team hosted a virtual roundtable with Maine wild blueberry farmers and industry leaders last September to discuss a recovery plan for growers hurt by Trump’s trade policies. Now, blueberry businesses and several farm-state lawmakers are calling for government action.
Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.), a senior Agriculture Committee member, advocated for blueberry growers at a Jan. 12 hearing held by the U.S. International Trade Commission, which is investigating the impact of blueberry imports on domestic producers. Blueberries are Georgia’s top fruit, according to the state’s agriculture department. Georgia voted for the Democratic presidential candidate for the first time since 1992.
“Blueberry growers have been reeling from years of unfair trade practices that flood our domestic market with cheap foreign-subsidized produce below the cost of production here in the U.S.,” Scott said in a statement that day. “I am hopeful that the ITC will recognize that imported blueberries have caused serious injury to the domestic blueberry industry and changes are needed to support our American blueberry growers.”
The ITC announces its determination on Feb. 11, with Biden making the final decision on the report in March if remedy is necessary.
Scott also spearheaded a letter alongside Rep. Al Lawson (D-Fla.) to the agency last December, pointing to a surge in blueberry imports — namely from Chile, Peru, Mexico, Argentina, and Canada — as “devastating” to the domestic industry. House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) joined 29 other lawmakers in signing the pair’s letter.
More than 20 industry groups, including the Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance and the National Latino Farmers & Ranchers Trade Association, sent a similar letter on Jan. 21.
The American Blueberry Growers Alliance, which also supports the ITC investigation, warned if action isn’t taken that many farms and companies that support blueberry farming operations will close, the group responded when asked how the Biden administration should react to industry requests to limit blueberry imports.
The economies of many local communities will be devastated in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, California, Oregon, and Washington, and entire states may lose blueberry farming to foreign competition, ABGA added.
However, the Blueberry Coalition for Progress and Health counters that the vast majority of imports don’t compete with domestic blueberries, as approximately 80% of imported fresh blueberries enter the U.S. in off-peak weeks, the group said in a Jan. 25 statement.
The coalition’s members include Driscoll’s Inc., and the respective Argentinean and Chilean Blueberry Committees.
To contact the reporter on this story: Megan U. Boyanton in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org