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Surprise attack

National strawberry council faces opposition fromU.S. and importers.

By Tamara Leigh

he application for a national strawberry research and marketing council has taken a dramatic shift in recent months, as some of the major players from the United States have filed submissions against the proposal.


The strawberry grower associations from California and Florida, corporate players Driscoll’s and Dole, as well as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), submitted reports to the Farm Products Council of Canada before public hearings in April. Sharmin Gamiet, manager of the Fraser Valley Strawberry Growers Association, attended the public hearing in Vancouver on April 1.

“We are getting opposition from people I would have never considered,” says Gamiet. “I understand that the California Strawberry Growers Association has hired a lawyer to go through the proposal and determine how it contravenes the free trade act. The opposition to the national council is multi-tiered.”

The USDA’s submission opposes the proposal on two main points – first, that the objectives of the council would favour the promotion of domestically produced berries over imports and second, that because a huge majority of the berries sold in Canada is from the U.S., fees would be primarily collected from American companies, and drive up the price of berries for consumers.

“Your strawberry marketplace is composed of 86 per cent imported fruit (the vast majority coming from the U.S.),” says Ted Campbell, executive director of the Florida Strawberry Growers’ Association, in his submission. “Therefore your funding proposal draws $318,045 from Canada’s domestic growers and $1,907,630 from American producers. Under this scenario, foreign producers will provide $6 for every $1 that Canadians pay.”

Campbell says the cost will amount to berry producers in the Florida and California subsidizing the Canadian industry, and calls the proposed levy, “little more than a pseudo tariff, taxation without representation, and a potentially illegal trade barrier.” Despite the opposition reflected in written submissions, presenters at the Vancouver hearing were unanimously positive.

Ed McKim, chair of the B.C. Strawberry Growers’ Association, told the hearing: “Governments are cutting back all the time on the money in their budgets, and if you want a sustainable industry you have to have money. “Even with the funding available out there, you have to have matching dollars to trigger it. Having a national council with levies for research and promotion is one of the ways to do that.” According to McKim, the situation is urgent for Canadian strawberry growers, in an industry that is increasingly controlled by interests from the U.S. and others who are importing berries to the Canadian market.

“Our backs are up against the wall. In my opinion, having a national council is good for all of Canada,” he says. “We have a stronger voice if everybody works together. If we want our industry to

8 British Columbia Berry Grower • Summer 2014

survive, we have to pull together and stick together to move forward.” Gamiet understands how outside interests could feel threatened by Canadian growers wanting to form a national association, but says increasing domestic promotion is good for everyone in the industry.

“If you form national agencies, you’re taking control of your own industry and they recognize that,” says Gamiet. “We want to form these agencies to increase consumption of berries, and if we increase the consumption per person, the production has to go up to meet that demand.”

“We acknowledge that Canadian domestic production can not meet that demand, so we will still have to get berries from foreign producers. In the end, we’ll be bringing more berries in, so the importers and distributors benefit,” she adds.

With the public hearings completed, the industry now has to wait for the decision of the Farm Products Council of Canada. Its decision will go forward as a recommendation to the federal minister of agriculture, but there is no telling how long it will take for the council or the minister to decide on the matter.

Public hearings for a proposed national raspberry council were completed in November, and there was still no decision as of the end of April. “I know there are other commodities, potato growers, apple growers, pork producers, wanting to do the same thing, so how they rule on raspberries and strawberries impacts the other commodity groups,” Gamiet explains. “This decision will impact all of other commodities, so they are taking their time with it.

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