USDA again snubs Hawaii's ag interests
A proposal to allow imports of irradiated fruit from Thailand has isle farmers worried.
HAWAII'S agricultural interests don't appear to amount to a hill of lychees as far as the U.S. Department of Agriculture is concerned. A USDA proposal to allow imports of irradiated tropical fruits from Thailand
-- while barring some of the same crops from Hawaii to be shipped to the mainland -- will hurt the state's small but sturdy fruit industry.
At the least, the agency should level the growing fields. Even so, island farmers likely will find difficult competition in Thailand's cheaper pineapples, lychees, longans, mangoes, rambutans and mangosteens.
The proposal comes as Hawaii's orchid growers are fighting off USDA approval of potted plant imports from Taiwan, which also threatens local agricultural enterprises as well as the environment. Orchid growers, in appealing a recent federal court ruling on the issue, contend the department did not adequately consider the possible effects of invasive pests.
The government's newest plan would put local fruit growers' harvests up against Thailand's, where production costs are significantly lower. The USDA says U.S. businesses could benefit from the imports -- just not the farm businesses in Hawaii.
Growers point out that their irradiated mangosteen is taboo from shipment to the mainland but would be allowed from Thailand, a ban Hawaii's agriculture officials have asked the federal agency to drop. Farmers also question whether inspections and regulations that govern their fruit also will be applied to the imports.
From a global perspective, Hawaii's concerns appear parochial. Against the failure of the Bush administration to reach wide trade agreements that could open U.S. and European markets to farmers in poor countries, the state's struggles seem inconsequential. However, the administration's strategy to make trade deals with individual countries smacks Hawaii's industry disproportionately.
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