ITC ruled that “fresh, chilled, or frozen blueberries are not being imported into the United States in such increased quantities as to be a substantial cause of serious injury, or threat of serious injury, to the domestic blueberry industry.”
As a result, ITC said the investigation is ending and that it will not recommend that President Biden take action, which could have included an increase of duties, the imposition of a quota, a two-stage tariff (or tariff-rate quota) on imports or trade adjustment assistance.
The investigation was launched at the request of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer last September, when he asked the ITC to initiate the global safeguard investigation into the extent of increased imports of blueberries and the serious economic injury to domestic blueberry growers.
Kevin Robson, executive director of the Michigan Blueberry Commission, called the ITC ruling a major disappointment for the state’s $130 million blueberry industry, one that defies logic when looking at import data.
According to Robson, over 550 Michigan farms produce nearly 100 million pounds of quality fresh and frozen blueberries annually on more than 20,000 acres. But the explosive growth in imports, unfair trade practices and market-price manipulation strategically timed to undermine domestic growers at their peak harvest has taken its toll.
“Recent data shows U.S. imports of blueberries have surged by over 62% from 423 million pounds in 2015 to 684 million pounds in 2019 in just the last five years alone,” Robson said. “The value of these imports has more than doubled since 2014, with five countries accounting for more than 98% of total imports over that period.”
In a letter to ITC Chairman Jason Kerns before the ruling, Michigan Farm Bureau President Carl Bednarski noted imports from Peru have increased by more than 3,500%, while imports from Mexico have increased nearly 300%. Imports from Canada and Chile also increased in value during this time he wrote.
“The timing of such imports during Michigan’s harvest period and the extremely low pricing of imports have resulted in a financial hardship for Michigan’s farms,” Bednarski said. “Our growers are struggling to stay in production and deeply concerned that if the surge of imports from foreign countries continues, we will no longer have a blueberry industry in Michigan.”
In an announcement following the ruling, the American Blueberry Growers Alliance said it disagreed with the outcome of the commissioner’s investigation.
“Throughout this case, blueberry growers across the United States provided the ITC with extensive data and personal experiences about the significant harm caused by surging imports on the supply and pricing of blueberries in the U.S. market, especially during our critical growing and harvest seasons,” ABGA wrote.
“We believed this data and testimony made a compelling case that safeguard measures were critical to the survival of our domestic farmers, and we are disappointed by the Commission’s decision,” they added.
ABGA argued U.S. trade laws must support a level playing field for American farmers, and that the ITC ruling reveals deficiencies in U.S. trade laws and puts the long-term viability of the domestic blueberry industry in jeopardy.
“We have received strong support from members of Congress, state elected officials, agricultural associations and other farm interests throughout this investigation, and we plan to work with these groups on other remedies to ensure that American consumers continue to have access to fresh, high-quality, safe, domestically grown blueberries,” ABGA said.
Meanwhile, Robson said he expects Michigan growers will face another year of economic uncertainty as they grow and harvest their 2021 blueberry crop.
“No doubt imports will now accelerate to overwhelm our domestic market this year, causing even greater hardship on family-owned farm operations, as well as on providers of packing and freezing services, and damage to rural Michigan communities,” Robson said.