‘Disparities’ give Mexico an unfair importing edge, they say

WHATCOM — County berry farmers who see an unfair trade situation involving Mexico are appealing to Washington’s members in Congress to address the issue.

The area around Lynden leads the nation in the cultivation of raspberries that are frozen for processing. Blueberries also are increasing in acreage. But the future has become uncertain because of inequities in foreign trade, berry growers say.

On Oct. 17 the Whatcom Family Farmers organization sent a letter to Reps. Rick Larsen and Suzan DelBene, who both represent Whatcom County, and Washington’s U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray. The letter points out “the very large disparity” in wages and regulations between American and foreign operations that factors into costs of production and should be recognized in trade relations.

Mexico especially is targeted in the letter.

“Mexican imports of small fruit such as raspberries, blueberries and strawberries have increased fivefold in the last decade. State subsidies and significant differences in food safety and environmental regulations mean that Mexican berries are sold in the United States for well below American production costs,” the letter states.

“Farmers in our state pay approximately $200 per day for labor while in Mexico farm workers earn about $11 per day. Other countries such as Serbia and China also pay farmworkers considerably less than U.S. domestic and guest workers are paid.”

Farmers across Washington and the country face increasing shortages of available workers, particularly during the harvest season when competition for labor is strongest. Pay rates have been increased as one way to retain seasonal employees. But, the farmers say in the letter, they are losing competitiveness through high labor costs and because union organizers try to win public opinion by claiming abuse and low pay.

The letter states, “Farmers are very concerned about providing good pay and working conditions for our farmworkers as well as caring for the environment and ensuring safe, high quality food.” But farmers are up against various pressures, including critics’ attacks on the federal H2A guest worker program that some use.