TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried on Monday urged people to purchase Florida-grown blueberries, strawberries and other produce to help counter what she described as “unfair foreign trade practices” by Mexico.

Fried, who is running for governor, made the request as she released a report from the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services about economic injury to Florida farmers from crop dumping. Concerns about crop dumping have been a refrain in the state since shortly after the North American Free Trade Agreement was approved more than a quarter century ago.

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Fried said she will continue to push the federal government for trade protections and the state Legislature to increase money to market Florida-grown produce. But during a news conference at the Capitol, Fried said Floridians can help with their shopping habits.

“We control the purse strings here in the state of Florida,” Fried said. “When you go to the food store, look for Fresh From Florida, Florida Grown labels on your produce. Go to your local farmers market. Demand that these products be served in our restaurants and our food stores.”

With Florida and Mexico producing many similar agricultural products throughout the year, the new report estimated the annual economic hit to Florida growers from Mexican imports is $1.99 billion to $3.99 billion.

As examples, the report said that since 2000, Florida’s seasonal market share of bell peppers has dropped 74.75 percent, tomatoes went down 52.1 percent, strawberries lost 30.3 percent, and blueberries went down 57.86 percent. In the same time, Mexico’s seasonal market share went up 95 percent for bell peppers, 102.3 percent for tomatoes and 266 percent for strawberries. The report said Mexico’s market share for blueberries has gone up 266 percent since 2010.

“This total economic loss equates to as many as 35,000 Florida jobs lost. Up to $88 million in lost indirect tax revenue for Florida annually,” Fried said. “With agriculture Florida’s largest industry, unfair foreign trade practices, and their devastating economic impacts, should be of greatest concern to every single Floridian.”

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Florida farmers contend Mexico has dumped cheap fruit and vegetables on the U.S. market without fear of retribution. State leaders hoped the issues would have been addressed when former President Donald Trump revamped the NAFTA trade deal with Canada and Mexico.

In June, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., along with U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, D-Fla., reintroduced legislation to help Florida fruit and vegetable growers combat trade practices by countries like Mexico.

The legislation seeks to require U.S. trade law to allow seasonal fruit and vegetable growers to petition the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission for relief from unfair trade practices.

“We must ensure the viability of Florida’s fruit and vegetable growers, who for years have struggled to compete with dumped and unfairly priced Mexican imports,” Rubio said in a statement when the legislation was reintroduced. “I firmly believe that food security is national security, and that to ensure our nation’s food security we must defend our food producers from malicious trade practices that are intended to undermine our self-reliance.”

Current law requires petitioners to demonstrate being harmed as measured from a nationwide and year-round perspective, which precludes the recognition of regional and seasonal fruit and vegetable industries, according to a release from Rubio’s office.

Rubio first introduced the legislation in 2018 with then-U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

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CBSMiami.com Team