December 04, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) spoke on the Senate floor about the challenges facing Maine blueberry farmers due to the U.S./China trade war and China’s retaliatory tariffs – totaling up to 97% in lost China sales since the tariffs took effect. Despite the heavy losses the trade war has inflicted on Maine’s wild blueberry industry, producers have not seen any relief or assistance in the ongoing multi-billion dollar farm bailout. Just today, Senator King sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue urging them to help wild blueberry producers whose livelihood has been put at risk by the ongoing Chinese trade war.
“Now, blueberries have been exported from Maine since the 1840's. And the people who are in this farming business are tough, they're resilient, they don't want bailouts. They want to be able to sell their product on the market,” said Senator King in his speech. “…But in recent years, the market for blueberries has been very difficult because of imports from Canada and additional cultivated blueberries from around the country. So our farmers, being entrepreneurial and doing what we have been telling them to do for years, have gone big time into the export market. Where is a great place to export? China.
“…Two years ago, $2.5 million a year of blueberries were going to China, and half of the budget of the wild blueberry export commission was going to develop the Chinese market. Hours and hours, days, dollars, a lot of effort went to develop this Chinese market. And then all of a sudden came the Trump administration tariffs… Now, the president just said yesterday this trade war with China may go on for another year. That means another crop, that means people – we have third and fourth-generation blueberry farmers in Maine leaving the land. It's heartbreaking. These aren't big enterprises. These aren't big operations. These are people with 100-acre farms.
“Now, the Administration knows about this because I, and my colleagues from Maine, wrote them in July and asked this question – wild blueberries should be included in what's called the [USDA] Market Facilitation Program. Didn't happen. And we still don't really know what the criteria is. Just to put a fine point on it, if you're a wild blueberry harvester with a 100-acre farm, you get zip, zero, nada, zilch. If you're a cranberry farmer with a 100-acre bog, you get $61,000. How is that fair? How is the distinction made?
“That’s the question that we’re asking,” concluded Sen. King. “I've written again today to the Department of Agriculture asking them: A. why we aren't in, and, B. how the distinctions are made. I don't think that's an unreasonable question… These are tough people. These are resilient people. These are hardworking people. These are people that have given their lives to the land, and they deserve to be supported by their government, not undermined, not challenged, not undercut by their government.”
Today’s floor speech marks Senator King’s latest effort to advocate for Maine industries affected by harmful trade negotiations. In July, Senator King joined the Maine Delegation to send a letter urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to include the wild blueberry industry in the USDA’s Market Facilitation Program. Earlier that month, the Delegation sent a letter urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to include significant funding for Maine’s lobster industry as the Department finalizes their aid package for agricultural producers affected by China’s retaliatory tariffs. The letter follows up on the Delegation’s initial request in June to provide relief for Maine’s lobster industry amidst the ongoing trade war with China. In February, the Maine Delegation wrote two letters urging the Administration to prioritize lobsters and potatoes in the ongoing trade negotiations with China.