US imports of fresh produce are coming under increased scrutiny as the Trump administration adds strawberries to a list of imported items it is requesting be investigated for possibly harming US fruit and vegetable growers.
Strawberry imports, mainly from Mexico, represent about 16% of the US market, which is valued at about $2.5 billion wholesale annually. If the investigation proceeds, a potential trade action against the imports could bring higher prices in the US market. In a similar action, a Section 201 investigation by the US International Trade Commission was recently requested into blueberry imports. A probe into imports of fresh peppers, the second largest fresh vegetable import, also has been sought.
US imports of strawberries totaled 184 million tonnes in 2019, up nearly fourfold since 2005. About 99% of the imports come from Mexico, where the weak peso has made exports more competitive. US farmers, especially in Southeastern states, claim the low-priced imports are putting domestic growers at a disadvantage. US strawberry production has declined every year since 2015. Meanwhile, farm incomes in the US Southeast have stagnated, rising only 10% from 2000 to 2018 and lagging well behind the 90% increase in overall US farm incomes.
Retail prices for US strawberries tend to decrease during the first four months of the year as imports are at their high, before stabilizing at lower levels from May through August when supply volumes are at their peak. Prices rise again from September to December. The increase in import volumes have helped bolster year-round availability of fresh strawberries in the US.
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