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Weekly Column: Expanding Markets For Idaho Specialty Crops

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Idaho farmers grow specialty crops in abundance.  Specialty crops include fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, flowers and more, and are distinct from what are considered the traditional staple crops of wheat, sugar beets, dairy and meat.  Idaho’s specialty crops range from the famous Idaho potato, to onions, peas, lentils, hops, honey, apples, cherries, grapes, peppermint, barley and so much more.  Recognizing 95 percent of the world’s consumers are located outside the U.S. and Idahoans produce far more than can be consumed in our great State, being able to sell Idaho products in foreign markets is critical to the long-term success of those who farm the fields, package or process agricultural products, or market them beyond our borders.

Unfortunately, U.S. specialty crop growers face a range of trade barriers hindering their ability to sell their high-quality products to consumers around the world.  These barriers include high tariffs imposed by other countries, onerous labeling requirements required by foreign governments, and unscientific regulations disguised as pest and disease controls that are intended to block entry of sound products.

Arming American specialty crop producers and trade negotiators with detailed and up-to-date information about trade barriers and their impacts will help our own trade advocates to break down longstanding trade barriers, diversify export markets and expand export opportunities for American specialty crop producers.  U.S. law already requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide an annual report to Congress describing significant barriers to U.S. exports of goods and services.  However, there is considerable room for improving this report to make it a more useful tool for expanding foreign market opportunities for U.S. producers.   

I recently joined my fellow leader of the Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) in introducing the Specialty Crops Reporting on Opportunities and Promotion Act (Specialty CROP Act).  This bipartisan legislation would strengthen the USDA’s annual “U.S. Specialty Crops Trade Issues Report to Congress” (Specialty Crops Report) for policymakers, the U.S. specialty crops industry and the American public by making a number of key improvements to the report that include:

  • Explicitly requiring our country’s trade negotiators (the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative) to participate and engage on the Specialty Crops Report;
  • Ensuring the report highlights specific trade barriers that limit the export competitiveness of specialty crops in specific markets;
  • Including an assessment in the report of whether each trade barrier is subject to a U.S. free trade agreement or international agreement; and
  • Requiring a request for comment from both the public and the Agricultural Trade Advisory Committee for Trade in Fruits and Vegetables. 

Direct access to Idaho’s plentiful and diverse locally grown crops makes our State a great place live.  These crops fuel our families, our communities and our economy.  I look forward to advancing this legislation that will improve the Specialty Crops Report to make it a more useful resource for growers and policymakers seeking to expand market opportunities for Idaho agriculture and feeding more families around the world.

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