Following the signing of a trade deal in 2020 between the US and Japan, which eliminated tariffs on fresh and dried blueberries in Japan but kept them on frozen blueberries, the US blueberry industry restarted the debate on the question. Is done. “We look forward to USTR taking action to address this issue now that Congress has made such an important commitment,” said Alyssa Houtby, director of government affairs for the North American Blueberry Council.
Late last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers called on the US Trade Representative (USTR) and the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to work with their Japanese counterparts to eliminate tariffs that apply to frozen blueberries upon entry into the US. continues to finish. Japan. Houtbee said, “Honestly, we think this was an oversight and can be addressed through a technical amendment, which means there is no need to start bilateral talks on this issue.”
For frozen blueberries only
The 2020 agreement eliminated tariffs on fresh and dried blueberries as well as frozen blackberries, raspberries and strawberries. However, Japan retained a 6% tariff for frozen US blueberries. “The US industry is at a competitive disadvantage compared to other countries where frozen blueberries get duty free,” says Houtbee.
Houtbee says the lost market share for U.S. frozen blueberries affects the fresh blueberry market not only in the Pacific Northwest, but also in blueberry-growing regions of the Northeast.
At the Washington Blueberry Commission, its executive director, Alan Schreiber, emphasized that Japan has historically been one of the largest export markets for the US. “Most frozen blueberries come from Washington, but also from Oregon, which is an important market for the Northwest,” he says. “It’s disappointing because we have a well-developed relationship based on interest in our product. However, it seems that every country in the world is trying to develop an export market for blueberries and we can’t give that market up to competition.” Have been.”
The strengthening of the US dollar is adding to the problem. “Although we have had business with some companies for many years, and although they have tried to remain loyal to us with tariffs, the state of the economy and the strength of the dollar, they will have to look for other options,” laments Sakuma Brothers Farms. Brian Sakuma, vice president of sales and marketing for End Processing, lists shipping frozen blueberries to Japan as one of its niche products and markets. “Both issues are important and are hurting us.”
National side effects
The tariffs also affect the entire US blueberry industry. “The lost market share of U.S. frozen blueberries affects the fresh blueberry market not only in the Pacific Northwest, but also in blueberry-growing regions of the Northeast,” Houtbee warned. “When a segment of an industry loses a market, it can lead to an oversupply scenario that puts downward pressure on price, which is not beneficial to any producer, regardless of where they grow.”
“This tariff means more blueberries reach the national market,” says Schreiber. In turn, the region is vigorously trying to develop other export markets. Last year Schreiber participated in a trip to Singapore and Malaysia to develop export markets. This year, the Washington Blueberry Commission will conduct promotional activities for frozen blueberries in those countries as well as South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines, and will add Indonesia and Thailand next year. “We wanted to develop export markets regardless of the situation. However, there are processor-exporting companies that were asking for more efforts to develop export markets to reverse Japan’s decline.”
The blueberry industry’s request to remove tariffs on frozen blueberries comes ahead of a trade mission to Japan next month, where attendees like Brian Sakuma hope the issue will be addressed.