2018-06-21 / Front Page

Reps stress fair trade for cherries

Press case to Feds
By Jay Bushen
Of The Enterprise staff

Representatives of the American tart cherry industry last week pressed Washington for help in the U.S. trade deficit with Turkey.

Cherry industry leaders Phil Korson and Mollie Woods took Turkey to task last Thursday while testifying before the International Trade Commission, asking commissioners to revoke Turkey’s duty-free access to the U.S. cherry market.

“We were finally given a chance to tell our story on behalf of Michigan tart cherry growers,” said Korson, president of the Cherry Marketing Institute. “Whether it’s a trade issue or pest issue or disease issue, we’re dedicated to doing everything we can to help farmers be competitive in a global marketplace. What we can’t do is compete against unfair competition, and (federal trade) preferences give our main competitor a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

“We’re going to argue until the end that that’s unfair — and I think we’re going to get somewhere on it.”

Woods, who was representing the CMI as an “agricultural economist,” declined to comment until information becomes public this fall.

For years Turkish tart cherry growers have enjoyed Generalized System of Preferences status, granting them duty-free access into the U.S. market. But since Turkey accounts for more than 50 percent of U.S. tart cherry imports, it exceeds the industry’s “competitive needs” limitation. Cherry grower representatives argue that federal law requires removal of its duty-free access.

Turkey has exceeded the limit in every year since 2013, Korson said, and has flooded the market and lowered the value of tart cherries as a result.

The Michigan Farm Bureau addressed that dynamic in a press release this week, stating that “trade issues have plagued the cherry industry for several years” and “more fruit is not necessarily a good thing when it comes to prices producers receive for the fruit of their labor.”

Fortunately, Korson said, the International Trade Commission was all ears. Groups representing four industries testified to the trade commission on the same panel, but the majority of follow-up questions from commissioners pertained to cherries.

“We had a lot of dialogue with all five commissioners and two rounds of questions — we got a cherry question from every one of them,” Korson said. “The cherry is something everyone can relate to. That’s the reason why I think there was so much interest in the presentation we made.”

Turkey’s duty-free access is possible due to Section 503 of the U.S. Trade Act, which expired in December. Tart cherry industry leaders pleaded with state legislators and petitioned to have Turkey’s duty-free access removed at that point, but the renewal of Section 503 was attached to a House Bill that passed on Feb. 14. The Senate then approved it when the budget bill passed in March, Korson said, allowing Turkey to once again capitalize on the Cherry Marketing Institute’s efforts to promote the health benefits of tart cherries. That promotion has spurred demand for tart cherry juice.

The Trade Commission has until Oct. 30 to render a decision.

“We made our case,” Korson said. “We were pleased with their interest in our industry.”

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