Drug War Hurts U.S. Asparagus Growers

Congress has decimated the U.S. asparagus industry by waiving tariffs for Peruvian asparagus. It's a backwards attempt to buffer coca eradication with crop substitution.

Notwithstanding divergent views on free trade among our readership, I'm sure we can all agree that tariffs shouldn't be arbitrarily lifted in support of a failed drug war policy in Peru.

The new Congress can fix this. The Seattle Times has more.

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    The new Congress certainly won't fix this..... (none / 0) (#1)
    by kdog on Thu Jan 11, 2007 at 07:14:04 PM EST
    I'm afraid.  The drug war lobby is stronger than the asparagus farmer lobby.

    Why so gloomy? (none / 0) (#2)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Thu Jan 11, 2007 at 07:35:55 PM EST

    You could just as easily headline it, "Drug War Helps U.S. Asparagus Consumers"  

    What's this? (none / 0) (#3)
    by Gabriel Malor on Thu Jan 11, 2007 at 07:36:24 PM EST
    I have some questions that are prompted by the article.

    From the article:

    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.

    I'm having trouble seeing how this is "one sided." We're currently working on a free trade agreement with Peru and one of the consequences of that agreement will be tariff-free import of asparagus. So it's not like there's anything to this six-month extension that we're not already willing to give away.

    I guess my major question for folks opposed to this is: why do you want asparagus-eaters to pay more at the supermarket?

    And for those that say we should, at least, be getting something in return for letting Peruvian asparagus in tariff-free: like what?

    And finally, this program is in its 16th year. No doubt Washington's asparagus industry has been impacted, but it's not like this six-month extension is going to be a death-blow. So, what gives?

    I'll take a stab at it... (none / 0) (#4)
    by kdog on Thu Jan 11, 2007 at 07:56:49 PM EST
    Couple points...

    I think it's bad form in general to be importing food, we should grow as much as possible ourselves.

    Are the Peruvian farm workers being offered comparable workplace protections to their US counterparts?  I'm all for fair free trade, but it's not fair to the American employer, and by extension the American worker, to set a market they cannot compete in.  The use of tariffs on trade with countries that do not offer comparable workplace protections is justified.

    If the Peruvian farmer is making good money growing coca, which is tough to grow in the US, why should we be trying to force a switch to a crop they grow perfectly well in Washington?  Besides "coca is bad" of course.



    For christ's sake (none / 0) (#5)
    by scarshapedstar on Thu Jan 11, 2007 at 08:09:55 PM EST
    Bush is already back on the sauce, do we need to make it any easier for him to get the ol' nose candy, too?

    and I'm bleeding. (none / 0) (#7)
    by Gabriel Malor on Thu Jan 11, 2007 at 11:35:49 PM EST
    Are the Peruvian farm workers being offered comparable workplace protections to their US counterparts?

    I doubt it very, very much. And I'm not sure what the solution to that is. But I am certain that penalizing Peruvian growers by restricting their market is not going to improve their conditions. Furthermore, penalizing American consumers by increasing the cost of asparagus seems particularly unfair.

    As far as coca production is concerned, I think you've answered your own question, partly: "Coca is bad." But I think it's untrue that we're "forcing a switch." Wikipedia says Peru is the worlds largest exporter of asparagus. I'm thinking they've got an asparagus thing, whether we give them free trade or not.

    And I noticed something else when I was at Wikipedia, too:

    The United States production for 2005 was on 54,000 acres and yielded 90,200 tons making it the world's largest producer and consumer when import quantities are factored in.

    World's largest producer? I wouldn't have guessed that after reading the Seattle Times article.


    What is your opinion.... (none / 0) (#10)
    by kdog on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 08:14:34 AM EST
    of importing food in general?  Would you agree it is bad form when it can be avoided?  Seeing as we are none too popular around the world lately, I wouldn't want to outsource too much of our food production...not good for our national security in my opinion.

    As to improving working conditions, the best incentive we can offer is a tariff on Peruvian goods until they meet our labor standards.  Tariff-free trade merely ensures their conditions never improve.

    PS...Coca isn't bad at all.  They have been chewing the leaves in South America for centuries as a stimulant, like the way we drink coffee.  Just because you can make cocaine out of it is no reason to poison crops throughout the South American continent.


    My opinion. (none / 0) (#18)
    by Gabriel Malor on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 11:15:58 AM EST
    I don't have a problem importing food. We've got places in this country and folks in this country that have trouble putting food on their kids' plates. So we have no excuse for artificially raising prices. That just punishes the people least able to adapt to price increases.

    As for labor standards, I question whether tariffs could ever provide enough incentive to change the way Peru treats its laborers. The EU and Japan import significant amounts of asparagus tariff-free as well. And as Peaches noted in #13, countries often get by with tariffs just fine. I would worry that if we put the squeeze on producers, they'll just take it out on laborers.

    A balance must be reached between our desire to incentivise improved Peruvian labor conditions and our desire to provide low-cost food for American consumers. Another factor to consider is whether or not we want to subsidize the American asparagus producers. And finally, we must consider the cost to the taxpayer of that subsidy.

    I lean towards the consumer and taxpayer side of things, obviously, but as Peaches said, tariffs are useful if you have policy reasons to prop up an uncompetative industry. I would say that your troubled feeling about outsourcing food production comes is an additional policy reason to subsidize American producers.


    Buy groceries lately? (none / 0) (#20)
    by aw on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 11:31:59 AM EST
    We've got places in this country and folks in this country that have trouble putting food on their kids' plates.

    When the cupboard is empty, they aren't even thinking about buying asparagus.  Even at lower prices it's not a cheap food.


    Asparagus... (none / 0) (#12)
    by desertswine on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 10:00:04 AM EST
    makes my pee smell bad.

    Hey Scar, don't blame coke (none / 0) (#6)
    by Che's Lounge on Thu Jan 11, 2007 at 10:47:05 PM EST
    for Bush. And Morales will be efforting big time to decriminalize the cultivation in Bolivia, so it's going to be even more important for us to revise our drug policies.

    Gabe, the agricultural congloms want to increase their profit margin by playing us against the peruvians. It's all profit driven. Try that approach and everything falls into place.

    Explain (none / 0) (#8)
    by Gabriel Malor on Thu Jan 11, 2007 at 11:41:05 PM EST
    I'm trying to figure out what you mean by:

    [T]he agricultural congloms want to increase their profit margin by playing us against the peruvians.

    Won't the profit on American asparagus production be increased if tariffs are imposed? On the other hand, I guess Peruvian asparagus producers are better off without tariffs. So, which "agricultural congloms" are you talking about?

    Also, how are they "playing us"? By eliminating tariffs, they're dropping the price for consumers. That means more asparagus sold. So...that's good for whoever can produce the lowest-cost asparagus. In this case, that's the Peruvians. And that's bad?


    Interesting. (none / 0) (#9)
    by clio on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 12:01:27 AM EST
    Peter Hoekstra represents all the asparagus growing area of Michigan which is(was)worth $15,000,000(3rd largest crop in the nation)to a heavily agricultural area.  

    Hoekstra has slavishly supported Bush, and is also  powerful in the House, chairing the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence since 2004 where he remains the ranking minority member.  I know from attending his town hall meetings that he has worked to protect asparagus growers.

    Shows what Congress is worth compared to the military/industrial complex.

    hey, i like asparagus! (none / 0) (#11)
    by cpinva on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 09:40:48 AM EST
    i am against the use of tariffs, for any other purpose than forcing foreign sourced producers to provide a level playing field with domestic producers. aside from that, they serve no legitimate economic purpose, for consumers.

    in fact, it was the smoot-hawley tariff act that helped precipitate the worst depression this country's ever experienced. tariffs should be used sparingly, if at all.

    the problem with determining comparibility is that, not unlike transfer pricing, it isn't a straight forward calculation. my norm isn't going to be the same as the norm for someone living in china. making this conversion would require significant assets, and should be done by an unbiased 3rd party, if there is such a thing.

    but it should be done, for fairness sake. and tariff's certainly shouldn't be used to fight the "drug war", that's not what they were originally designed for. not a real big surprise that they backlashed.

    Tariffs (none / 0) (#13)
    by Peaches on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 10:15:25 AM EST
    are an important tool for protecting and growing domestic industries and economies. Anyone who tells you differently has had one college economic course too many.

    The two most powerful and stable economies in the world grew and grow their economies by protecting their essential industries with high tarriffs on imports on manufactured products that compete with their domestic industries and agricultural products that would put their farmers out of business. All of asia has given us economic succes stories by following economic policies using tariffs and forsaking the free trade models advocated by western economists and policy makers. There are very good economic arguments for using tarrifs, you just aren't going to hear it in econ 101.

    But, aside from that, for all you asparagus lovers, eat peruvian asparagus at your own peril. Eat anything from the produce department of your local supermarket at risk to you and your families health (industrial produced spinach, anyone?). Grow your own Asparagus or get it at the local farmers market if you want to taste what Asparagus should taste like and you want to know whether or not there are any pesticides or dangerous bugs on them. You are what you eat, and if you don't know what you eat, then you don't know what you are or what the hell is growing inside you.


    Well said Peaches.... (none / 0) (#14)
    by kdog on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 10:24:20 AM EST
    I was hoping you'd chime in more eloquently and reasoned than I....you didn't let me down:)

    I'm growing my own salad greens (none / 0) (#16)
    by aw on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 10:49:12 AM EST
    hydroponically in this neat little AeroGarden I got for xmas.  No pesticides, no e-coli.  And my mother grows asparagus in her garden.

    Hogwash (none / 0) (#19)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 11:29:56 AM EST

    Tariffs are an important tool for protecting and growing domestic industries...

    Hong Kong lead the Asian boom with free trade not tariffs.  Tariffs are great for getting political favors from "protected" industries, great for screwing the consumer, and great for incenting industries to seek more tariffs (forex steel) instead of modernization.


    My oh My, (none / 0) (#21)
    by Peaches on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 11:53:31 AM EST
    That Milton Friedman film you saw in Econ 101 made quite an impression didn't it? Well, Abdul, Hong Kong certainly is an important trading partner for the US and it does have an open market. However, it doesn't have essential manufacturing inducstries it needs to protect, nor a robust agricultural sector. You might want to compare the overall size of its economy to Japan and China's, too.

    Hong Kong is a financial center, not a manufaturing and agricultural center of Asia.

    Check the history of Japan and the Asian Tigers and see for yourself the role that Tarriffs played in growing their economies.


    Great guns (none / 0) (#22)
    by Abdul Abulbul Amir on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 12:22:12 PM EST

    Well our essential airline industry is highly protected, and they mostly exist in bankruptcy court.  Our steel industry is highly protected and in the dumper as well.  In this country the story remains powerful politicians picking up industry  favors, consumers getting the shaft, and industries with no reason to get better.  Your success story in this country was what?

    Our success stories were (none / 0) (#23)
    by Peaches on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 12:42:44 PM EST
    1. the airline industry until protections were lifted by Carter in the late 70's.

    2. Our Steel industry until it was asked to compete with imported steel that was heavily subsidized and protected by its country of origin who would dump the cheap subsidized steel in our market for the benefit of our consumers, but at the expense of wrokers and producers in the US steel industry.

    3. textiles and agriculture during the founding of our country.

    4. Railroads in the 19th and twentieth century.

    5. our military indusrty is subsidized and protected by Gov't. I think we have seen the products of its success.

    6. name any successful US industry and you will find a gov't subsidy or protection by tariffs behind its growth and economic success.  

    The US economy was built on tarriffs and subsidies, Abdul. Thats a fact. Maybe an unpleasant fact and also one I'd be in favor of undergoing certain reforms (i.e. shrinking of the US gov't, local economies and industries serving local communities), but its a fact, none-the-less, your economic textbook non-withstanding.

    Gabe, (none / 0) (#15)
    by Che's Lounge on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 10:34:11 AM EST

    Instead of lobbying against their drug war friends, Del Monte and Seneca just abandon the US for the cheap labor in Peru.

    Here's some stuff I found (none / 0) (#17)
    by Che's Lounge on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 10:58:24 AM EST


    But Dayton (not the one in OH) is OK


    asparagus (none / 0) (#24)
    by thrasymachus on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 01:01:32 PM EST
    Peru is a poor country.  They need the export earnings from agriculture.  How can we tell them not to grow coca and then impede their ability to export legitimate crops?

    Aren't there some issues more important than the needs of one state's farmers? Our national policy is to encourage crop subsitution in coca-producing countries. Now, in a rare example of success that is free of coercion, so-called "leftist" types here in the US are complaining?

    Anyway, Peruvian asparagus is pretty good.  They tend to ship the tender, thin stalks, rather than the woody crap that US growers give us.

    Up yours, Washington growers, and may your pee stink from here to the Andes.

    We shouldn't be telling them.... (none / 0) (#27)
    by kdog on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 02:33:06 PM EST
    what to grow at all.  That should be their call, no?

    And whatever they choose to grow or manufacture should be subject to tariffs if Peru does not meet basic fair labor standards and they want to sell here.  American farmers and manufacturers are required by law to meet fair labor standards, the same should apply to Peru if that want to sell in our market tariff-free.

    And I'll leave it to the Peruvian coca farmer to tell me whether he/she has been coerced or not to switch crops....not the US or Peruvian govt.'s.  I think it would take a lot of coercion, like the threat of arrest or crop destruction, to coerce a coca farmer to give up such a lucrative crop.  Asparagus may be a little pricey....but not compared to cocaine.


    About 55 percent of Washington's crop is
    canned, and less than 10 percent is

    was dominated by its frozen and or canned products.

    The U.S. is one of the world's
    largest producers and consumers of
    fresh asparagus. In the past, fresh
    asparagus was consumed in the U.S. only
    in the first half of the year when U.S.
    product was available. Now, thanks to
    soaring imports--up 74 percent in the
    1990's--fresh asparagus is available year

    Since frozen and canned asparagus is probably consumed during the off-season when fresh veggies are not available, it makes sense that off-season imports of fresh asparagus from Peru would hurt the demand for Washington frozen/canned asparagus. And, also, benefit consumers.

    Peru has rapidly emerged as one of the
    world's largest producers and exporters,
    aided by climatic conditions permitting
    year-round asparagus production. Peru
    also enjoys duty-free access to the U.S.
    market through U.S. trade concessions
    under the Andean Trade Preference Act,
    which was implemented for Peru in 1993

    otoh, we now have fresh veggies of many, many types all year around, which would also probably reduce demand for frozen/canned Washington asparagus. And, also, benefit consumers.

    Given the proliferation in fresh produce items now available to consumers--the
    average U.S. supermarket handles 340
    fresh produce items--increased investment
    in promotion and product innovation
    may be essential to stimulate demand
    for fresh asparagus relative to the attractive

    I would imagine frozen/canned Washington asparagus would have even a tougher time competing.

    When all is said and done regarding importing (none / 0) (#26)
    by Bill Arnett on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 02:29:44 PM EST
    asparagus which, should in theory lower prices, I wager that instead the prices will go UP keeping all the middle men making profits.

    Does anyone realistically expect ANY food prices to go DOWN?

    Bill... (none / 0) (#28)
    by kdog on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 02:35:19 PM EST
    the only prices I ever see go down are on items soon to be obsolete or outdated.

    Food will never be obsolete or outdated....so I think you are right, the price on food will never come down, regardless of the labor-savings cost to produce it overseas with cheap, unprotected labor.


    Asparagus prices (none / 0) (#29)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 02:42:24 PM EST
    U.S. asparagus production has declined
    since 1989, due in part to some California
    producers switching to more profitable
    annual crops. U.S. production is expected
    to increase in 1997, however, following
    poor weather in 1995 and 1996 which
    reduced production in California. Also,
    recent plantings in California are starting
    to mature, further boosting supply in the
    next few years. Under these conditions,
    U.S. producers should expect downward
    pressure on prices. With the rapid growth
    of asparagus imports from other countries,
    off-season suppliers may also experience
    downward price pressure.

    otoh, in what I can only assume are (none / 0) (#30)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Fri Jan 12, 2007 at 03:05:18 PM EST
    inflation adjusted dollars, here.

    '79 ~ $64.4/cwt
    '01 ~ $140/cwt
    '05 - $97.5/cwt