Gillibrand, Schumer say unfair trade subsidies from Canada hurting NY onion growers

Posted 7 February 2020 at 1:18 pm

Photo by Tom Rivers: Some local onions from the Elba muck are shown in this photo.

Press Release, U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer

WASHINGTON, D.C. —U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are calling for investigations into unfair trade subsidies to Canadian growers, as New York State onion farmers struggle against an influx of produce, priced below the price of production, coming across the border.

“New York State is home to prime onion-producing land, yet our farmers are unable to sell their goods in a domestic market that is flooded by cheap Canadian exports,” said Senator Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Farmers across the country have been struggling to keep up with growing production costs, while Canadian exporters have been able to dump cheap onions onto the market at prices comparable to 30 years ago.

“Since Canada has similar production costs, the only way this could be happening is through some type of government subsidy that is lowering their costs,” Gillibrand said. “This would amount to an unfair trade practice and needs to be immediately investigated. I stand with the National Onion Association in calling on the U.S. International Trade Commission and the United States Trade Representative for a full review of Canadian pricing, subsidies and exporting practices.”

New York State is home to Orange County’s famous “Black Dirt” Region, one of the premier onion-producing regions in the nation. Yet, New York farmers, including those who grow highly-prized black-dirt onions, are being forced to sell produce at market prices comparable to the 1980s.

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that Orange County onion growers received between $5.25 and 5.75 for a 50-pound bag of medium yellow onions, which would amount to around $13.00 or $14.00 today. Today, those farmers are offered only $7.00 per 50-pound bag, less than $2.00 more than what they were paid nearly 30 years ago.

“Some of the best onions in the country come right from Orange County’s Black Dirt region, as well as from other upstate counties,” Schumer said. “However, due to Canada’s suspected unfair pricing practices, cheap Canadian onions are flooding United States markets and leaving New York onion farmers at a steep competitive disadvantage.

“As costs of production, labor, and equipment continue to rise, it’s time for the US International Trade Commission and US Trade Representative to immediately investigate Canadian onion exporters’ pricing practices along with the Canadian government’s trade regulations and level the playing field once and for all, allowing New York farmers to finally harvest the massive potential of their onions.”

Gillibrand’s and Schumer’s push for an investigation into the onion industry will help identify which factors contribute to unfair prices and ensure increased market transparency.

The two senators from New York sent a letter on Feb. 6 to the U.S. International Trade Commission and the United States Trade Representative.

In their letter, the senators asked for the following:

1. Initiate a fact-finding investigation into the alleged unfair pricing practices of Canadian onion exporters, including:

a. A review of any potential anti-competitive pricing practices, including the sale of Canadian onions in the U.S. market at prices below the cost of production;

b. A comparison of U.S. and Canadian tariffs and nontariff trade regulations that apply to onions; and

c. A review of Canadian government subsidy programs that support reducing the costs of shipping, fuel, imported seed and farm inputs, or crop price guarantees relating to onions through either country-wide or provincial-level support, or any other market-distorting practices;

2. Keep their offices apprised of any findings that result from such an investigation; and

3.  Work in tandem with other relevant U.S. government entities, including the Office of the United States Trade Representative as the agency moves to implement and enforce obligations as part of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and other international trade agreements, to address and rectify any discriminatory pricing or other unfair trade practices relating to Canadian onion imports.

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