Patty in the News

At a hearing of the Senate Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee on May 6, Washington state Sen. Patty Murray urged Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to resolve a year-old trade dispute with Mexico when the United States and Mexico meet for an official state visit later this month.

In March of 2009, Mexico instituted increased import taxes on an estimated $2.4 billion worth of domestic goods in response to a cross-border trucking dispute with the United States. The tariffs were a retaliatory measure after the U.S. Congress – pressured by interests from the Teamsters Union – failed to meet U.S. obligations to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

This past Tuesday, May 4, Murray met with Mexican Ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, to discuss the negative impact the Mexican tariffs are having on Washington’s agriculture industry. According to a press release from the senator’s office, Murray urged Ambassador Sarukhan to end retaliatory tariffs, and to use Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s upcoming meeting with President Obama on May 19 as an opportunity to resolve the issue.

Of the goods targeted for increased import taxes, the Northwest’s agricultural industry has been hit especially hard, said Northwest Horticultural Council Vice President Mark Powers. As of April 6, 2010, Powers said he estimated that $21 million has been lost in sales and lost revenue for pears, cherries, and stone fruits like apricots because, as a result of the Mexican tariffs, local growers sell their crop for $3 to $5 less per crate than they could elsewhere.

“The growers are losing money every time they ship down there because the tariff pretty much comes out of their pocket,” Powers said.

According to the Northwest Horticultural Council, Mexico is the pear industry’s top export market, garnering 13 percent of the total U.S. pear crop, and an annual sales of approximately $50 million to $60 million. In 2008 for example, pear exports to Mexico totaled $72 million.

Additionally, 10 percent of the U.S. apricot crop is sold to Mexico and the market for cherries, while not as large in Mexico, has grown more than 200 percent since 2005, according to the Northwest Horticultural Council.

Powers said he would be meeting with various congressional offices and trade advisory groups in Washington, D.C. today, May 6, to discuss, among other things, the Mexico cross-border trucking dispute and push for a solution.

“We need to come up with a program that meets Mexico’s needs and operates under the trade agreement,” Powers said. “You can argue about trucking all you want but while you’re arguing about it, our guys are losing money.”

- Wenatchee Business Journal