While President Trump has stressed American independence in the midst of the Chinese coronavirus crisis, the United States Agriculture Department (USDA) has greenlighted citrus imports from China.
This month, USDA approved pummelo, Nanfeng honey mandarin, ponkan, sweet orange, and Satsuma mandarin fruit from China to be imported for consumption in the U.S. at the opposition of American citrus growers and Florida state officials.
Days after the announcement, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried sent a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue requesting that the decision be reversed.
“I believe the major risks posed by the introduction of invasive pests and diseases should be enough to discourage opening our markets to citrus from China, the timing of such a policy change is also extremely concerning,” Fried wrote. She went on:
To kick our agriculture community while they are down, and when our domestic food supply depends on them more than ever, is just plain wrong. I strongly urge the USDA to put the well being of Florida’s and America’s farmers first and rescind this misguided proposal.
In statements to Breitbart News, a USDA spokesperson said scientists “determined that commercial shipments of pummelo, Nanfeng honey mandarin, ponkan, sweet orange, and Satsuma mandarin fruit from China produced under a systems approach can be safely imported into the U.S.”
A USDA spokesperson said “any prohibitions” on citrus imports from China “must be based on scientific evidence.” The official also said that USDA analysis “indicates it is unlikely that China will export a significant amount of citrus to the U.S., as almost all Chinese citrus is consumed domestically and in Southeast Asia.”
“It is also unlikely that exports to the U.S. will displace domestic production or existing sources of foreign supply,” though Florida officials and lawmakers disagree.
Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Rick Scott (R-FL) have likewise sent a letter to Perdue asking USDA to immediately reverse the decision, which they write will “increase unfair foreign competition by Chinese government-subsidized products” and could lead to American growers being exposed to “a host of new pests and diseases.”
A USDA spokesperson told Breitbart News pest and disease concerns have been evaluated by the agency:
[USDA] is also concerned about the threats posed by invasive species to U.S. agriculture, and we work actively to keep that from happening. [USDA] based this decision on the scientific analysis detailed in our pest risk assessment and on a thorough evaluation of the public’s comments on that analysis. The analysis examines the plant pests and diseases that are known to be associated with a commodity and identifies those pests that are likely to remain on the commodity upon importation into the United States. The analysis also evaluates the mitigations that may be required to avoid, reduce, or eliminate the risk of pest introduction into the United States. Market access for any commodity is only granted when effective mitigations are available and can be implemented to minimize the risk of pest introduction. The systems approach determined for this market access request includes safeguarding measures across the production continuum to minimize the risk of introducing plant pests into the United States. [Emphasis added]
For weeks, Trump has reaffirmed his America First agenda with calls for a reshoring of American manufacturing and decoupling from China.
“We cannot outsource our independence, we cannot be reliant on foreign nations,” Trump said on April 20. “I’ve been saying this a long time.”
Trump’s trade adviser, Peter Navarro, has said the U.S. is “dangerously over-dependent” on foreign countries for imports that can be readily made in America.
Florida’s agriculture officials have said, “illegal dumping” of foreign produce in the U.S. market has resulted in a 551 percent increase in specialty crop imports from Mexico, alone, over the last two decades, eliminating between 20,000 to nearly 40,000 Florida jobs in the process.
John Binder is a reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter at @JxhnBinder.