New hope for asparagus growers
Washington asparagus growers might get a break in the new Democrat-controlled Congress. They sure need it. The industry has been decimated...
Washington asparagus growers might get a break in the new Democrat-controlled Congress.
They sure need it.
The industry has been decimated by a U.S. drug policy designed to encourage Peruvian coca-leaf growers to switch to asparagus. Passed in 1990 and since renewed, the Andean Trade Preferences and Drugs Eradication Act permits certain products from Peru and Colombia, including asparagus, to be imported to the United States tariff-free.
The act was set to expire Dec. 31, but Congress approved a six-month extension to make time to negotiate a proposed free-trade agreement.
We believe world markets should be more open and barriers to trade should be lowered. But this trade preferences act, when it comes to asparagus, is a one-sided deal that does only harm to the U.S. industry while failing miserably at its stated intent of reducing drug production.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Web site currently notes that the Peruvian coca acreage, mostly in the highlands, is the highest it has been in eight years.
Meanwhile, the small country has become a powerhouse in asparagus production along its Pacific Coast lowlands. Peruvian asparagus production has multiplied 18-fold. The industry has developed a vigorous market and attracted sizable capital investment.
Meanwhile, the Washington industry is a shadow of its former self. Acreage has been cut by 71 percent to just 9,000 acres. In 2005, Seneca closed the world's largest cannery in Dayton, Columbia County, and shipped its state-of-the-art equipment to — no surprise — Peru. So did Del Monte, when it closed its Toppenish plant.
Is it any wonder the U.S. asparagus industry hopes the preferences act will be allowed to lapse in June?
That's not to say the Washington Asparagus Commission has its head in the sand over the global economy. In particular, the commission is willing to support a proposed free-trade agreement with provisions common to other free-trade agreements.
The industry wants the tariff re-imposed on Peruvian asparagus but only during the U.S. growing season — roughly April through June in Washington — and then phased out over a period of years. The tariff on U.S. production would diminish also.
That would be a long, overdue solution for an industry decimated by a drug-reduction policy that failed miserably.
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