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Peru trade deal angers US asparagus growers

Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Peru trade deal angers U.S. asparagus growers


9 December 2005

YAKIMA, Wash. — Asparagus growers in Washington state, Michigan and California say they will ask Congress to scuttle a newly announced free-trade agreement between the United States and Peru.

In a joint statement issued Thursday, growers in the three states expressed "dissatisfaction and outrage" with U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman for not negotiating limits or tariffs on asparagus imports.

"While the industry has been fortunate to have such good support from the Washington, Michigan and California congressional delegations, I am unhappy the USTR’s office failed to negotiate a truly free and fair trade agreement," said Jim Middleton of Pasco, chairman of the Washington Asparagus Commission.

The statement was issued a day after Portman and Alfredo Ferrero, Peru’s foreign trade minister, announced the first free-trade agreement between the two nations, potentially the lead-in to a regional agreement that also could include Colombia and Ecuador.

For more than a decade U.S. asparagus growers have complained about the impact of the Andean Trade Preferences Act, adopted in 1991, which lowered trade barriers to encourage Andean farmers to grow crops other than coca, the source of cocaine.

Washington state, once the nation’s top producer of asparagus, has lost asparagus processing plants in Toppenish, Walla Walla and Dayton, forcing farmers to compete with cheaper Peruvian imports on the fresh market.

Last year 2,000 acres was removed from asparagus production statewide and one-fifth of the growers who once harvested asparagus have halted production since 2002, according to the commission.

Portman did not mention asparagus in his statement praising the free-trade pact, which has been praised by business groups ranging from the National Pork Producers Council to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

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Information from: Yakima Herald-Republic,