On Thursday I had the opportunity to join a group of leaders within California’s Agriculture community at Blue Diamond Growers headquarters in Sacramento for a roundtable discussion with United State’s Trade Representative (USTR) Ambassador Ron Kirk. The Ambassador was in town to discuss the importance and need for the U.S. to pass the pending Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Panama and Korea.
While the Ambassador recognized that FTAs are seen as a “four letter word” to many people throughout the country, responsible for the loss of jobs and industries here at home, Kirk reiterated the need to push past these negative impressions and focus on the benefits.
Kirk acknowledged those of us in attendance as being adept to the benefits of such agreements, “more so than most,” and that he knew if he had to “sell” California on the benefits, “we’re (USTR) in trouble,” he said.
The Commission has been sensitive to the majority of California’s agriculture groups’ desire to see these agreements passed and has continued to remain unopposed to their passing. However, I did have the opportunity to share with Ambassador Kirk the concerns our farms continue to have with the United States’ trade policy when it comes to Colombia. After twenty years of negative impact due to increased flower imports, we believe now is the time for Congress and the Administration to mind the details of these permanent trade agreements to ensure that they are “fair” for everyone involved. I was fortunate to have been joined by Elly Fairclough with Congressman Mike Thompson‘s office who was there to voice the Congressman’s support for our farms.
Our California flower farmers have lived through the negative impact that South American imports have had on the U.S. flower farms and have continued to adjust to try and remain competitive. Yet, rather than wave the white flag at the sound of a permanent trade agreement with Colombia, they have, once again, developed a
mitigating remedy that they believe would begin to level the playing field. Two independent studies, commissioned by the CCFC, have shown improved competitiveness through the reduction of costs when farms work together to consolidate their flower freight. The Commission continues to seek federal resources to help implement this cooperative transportation system through the establishment of a shipping center that would consolidate California’s flower shipments throughout the state and country.
The Ambassador acknowledged that he was aware of our unique position of California’s cut flower farms related to this pending agreement with Colombia and said that his team had been and will continue to look into what could be done to address our concerns. Therefore, I remain optimistic.
I certainly agreed with the Ambassador when he said that “American Made” still means something to people. I believe more American’s would buy more American Grown Flowers if they knew where their flowers came from and were given a choice, but if steps are not taken to address the inequalities of this current and future trade relationship with Colombia, I’m afraid Americans will continue to unknowingly lose their ability to choose.