In reaction to President Donald Trump’s statements that he may close the border with Mexico, including to trade, the National Pork Producers Council, dairy and fruit and vegetable groups said Monday they can’t afford to lose the Mexican market.
In a statement, NPPC President David Herring, a pork producer from Lillington, N.C., said, “A cloud of uncertainty and restricted access to our most important export markets have strained U.S. pork producers and their families for more than a year.
“The value of our exports to Mexico and China are down 28 percent and 32 percent, respectively, this year. We are at the breaking point and cannot afford a total loss of the Mexican market, one that accounted for more than 20 percent of total U.S. pork exports last year.
“While we recognize the importance of border security, we respectfully ask the Trump administration to proceed cautiously and consider the implications of cutting off trade with a market that is so vital for rural America.
“We urge the administration to end current trade disputes and to focus its efforts on the upcoming trade negotiation with Japan and the expansion of export markets for U.S. agriculture, an economic sector that reduces the U.S. trade deficit by producing some of America's most competitive export products.”
National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern said, “The dairy industry is suffering through one of its worst economic periods ever. Low milk prices are already creating hardship for farmers, and further supply disruptions would only prolong producer difficulties."
“Dairy exporters already are suffering from diminished access to export markets due to high tariffs and lack of progress on U.S. trade agreements,” noted U.S. Dairy Export Council President and CEO Tim Vilsack.
“Closing the U.S. southern border to Mexico would be a gut punch that could set the industry back by a decade or two,” Vilsack said.
Mexico is U.S. dairy’s largest export customer, purchasing $1.4 billion in 2018, Vilsack noted.
“There is not a ready alternative market for the millions of gallons of milk that are converted into the thousands of tons of dairy ingredients and cheese we ship to Mexico,” Vilsack said. “It is very difficult to fathom the impact closing the U.S.-Mexico border would have on U.S. agriculture, and both the American and Mexican food industries.”
The Associated Press reported that more than 60 percent of all Mexican winter produce consumed in the U.S. crosses into the country at Nogales, Ariz.
The winter produce season is especially heavy right now, with the import of Mexican-grown watermelons, grapes and squash, Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, told the Associated Press.
Jungmeyer’s group works “to ensure North America’s uninterrupted access to fresh, high-quality, healthy and delicious Mexican-grown fruits and vegetables.”
In California’s Imperial Valley, across the border from Mexicali, Mexico, farmers rely on workers who come across every day to harvest fields of lettuce, carrots, onions and other winter vegetables, the AP story said.
Jungmeyer told the AP that closing the border would lead to immediate layoffs and result in shortages and price increases at grocery stores and restaurants.
“If this happens — and I certainly hope it doesn’t — I’d hate to go into a grocery store four or five days later and see what it looks like,” Jungmeyer said.