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Capps Urges Obama to Support California Flower Growers

Congresswoman says U.S. trade policies with Colombia have hurt local farms

Last week, Rep. Lois Capps led a bipartisan group of her colleagues in writing to President Barack Obama and urging him to support California flower growers in their efforts to better compete with global competitors, namely Colombia, that have gained a significant competitive advantage in recent years because of U.S. trade policies.

The letter, signed by 40 other members of the California congressional delegation, specifically asks President Obama to support this treasured California industry as his administration works on the Colombia Free Trade Agreement. The full text of the letter is below.

“California flower growers have produced the finest flowers in the world for decades, but have been seriously hurt in recent years by U.S. trade policies with Colombia,” Capps said. “But, rather than give up, the growers have demonstrated incredible ingenuity and determination in their efforts to remain competitive in the global market place. Kasey Cronquist and the growers have done a superb job to promote and sustain this treasured California industry, and I’m proud to support them.”

“Congresswoman Capps continues to lead the charge in helping to gain the attention and support necessary for the future success of California’s flower farms prior to the passing of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement,” said Cronquist, executive director of the California Cut Flower Commission. “We are fortunate to have the congresswoman representing the concerns of California’s flower farms and working to ensure that people everywhere can be assured future access to flowers grown locally.”

California produces the vast majority of American cut flowers. More than 80 percent of domestically grown flowers are grown in the state, accounting for 20 percent of all flowers sold in the United States and directly supporting more than 10,000 jobs in the state.

However, the number of California’s flower farms is shrinking rapidly because of increasing imports from Colombia. In particular, Colombia cut flower producers have received millions of dollars in subsidies from their government and millions of dollars in foreign assistance from the U.S. government during the past 10 years.

California growers are working aggressively to remain competitive through innovation, diversification and sheer determination. Working with the California Cut Flower Commission, the state agricultural commission that advocates on behalf of flower farmers, growers have worked to remain competitive by offering higher-end products produced in an increasingly environmentally sustainable manner.

They are also in the final phase of developing a new transportation and shipping center that would reduce shipping costs by up to 40 percent. However, this new system requires significant upfront costs for the growers. Currently, the upfront shipping costs are paid by the customers, but the new consolidated system would shift these costs to the growers. This creates a funding gap between growers paying the carrier and being paid by their customers. The CCFC is seeking federal funding to cover this gap, which would encourage growers to transition to this more efficient system of delivery.

For the past several years, Capps has led the effort in Congress to support California flower growers and help procure the resources needed for the transportation and distribution center. This is the third California congressional delegation letter she has sponsored on this issue, and she also secured language in the FY 2010 Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and Related Agencies Appropriations Conference Report urging U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to support the project.

Letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama:

California produces some of the finest fresh cut flowers in the world. Over 80 percent of domestically grown flowers are grown in California, accounting for 20 percent of all flowers sold in the U.S. and directly supporting more than 10,000 jobs in the state. However, the number of our state’s flower farms is shrinking rapidly due to federal trade policies beyond their control, specifically those with Colombia under the Andean Trade Preferences Act (ATPA).

We write to bring these concerns to your attention, and ask that you keep this important California industry in mind as you work to advance the pending U.S-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (Colombia FTA). This letter is not intended to express our views on the Colombia FTA itself, which are varied, but rather to call your attention to how U.S. trade policies with Colombia have affected this valuable American industry.

According to a recent U.S. International Trade Commission report, ATPA countries, primarily Colombia, supplied 82 percent of the total value of U.S. imports of fresh cut flowers in 2009. In addition to these trade preferences, the Colombian government gave roughly $210 million in subsidies and support to their cut flower industry from 2005-2009, according to the U.S. State Department, and USAID has given Colombia millions of dollars to assist in the development of its flower industry. 

As a result, Colombian exports to the U.S. increased 89 percent between 2002 and 2010, resulting in a steep and rapid decline in the number of domestic flower growers. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of acres dedicated to cut flower production in the U.S. declined by 22 percent during the same period.

Recognizing this decline, the FY 2010 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Conference Report included language urging the U.S. secretary of agriculture to “use all available resources to support domestic flower growers in their efforts to develop an efficient and environmentally friendly transportation, storage, and distribution system to better compete with foreign producers.” 

Although they continue to face steep competition from subsidized Colombian growers, California growers are working aggressively to overcome these challenges through innovation, diversification, and sheer determination. Working with the California Cut Flower Commission, the state agricultural commission that advocates on behalf of our flower farmers, they have worked to remain competitive by offering higher end products produced in an increasingly environmentally sustainable manner. They use the latest in horticultural science to increase yields and develop new varieties for the market, while also meeting California labor and environmental standards that are much higher than their foreign competitors. They are also in the final phase of developing a new transportation, logistics, and shipping system and center that would reduce their shipping costs by 30 to 40 percent.

We know that you share our goal of helping our domestic flower farmers overcome these challenges and ultimately thrive again. As you and your administration work to advance the Colombia FTA, we respectfully ask that you keep California cut flower growers in mind, and do all you can to support this valuable American industry, including assisting them in establishing their transportation center, consistent with all relevant rules and regulations.

Sincerely,
Lois Capps

— Ashley Schapitl is press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.

 
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