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American rose growers criticize USTR decision to remove tariff protection

American rose growers criticize USTR decision to remove tariff protection

U.S. rose growers say the removal of duties on flowers grown in Ecuador will make it difficult for them to compete. Courtesy California Cut Flower Commission Jung Houck, a floral worker, organizes shipments for Frank Adams Wholesale Florist in Portland, Ore. American rose growers say the latest tariff decision poses a threat to their industry. American growers in the cut rose industry raised an outcry after the Trump Administration’s decision Friday to remove tariff protections for domestic producers.

The decision removed long-standing 6.8% duties on imports of cut roses from Ecuador, which domestic growers say had shielded them from large volumes of low-priced Ecuadorian imports.

"This is a true bummer," said Danielle Hahn, owner of Rose Story Farm, a property with rose-dappled hills near Santa Barbara, Calif.

Hahn said she fears it will be impossible to compete with an influx of cheaper roses from Ecuador because she has higher costs for land, labor and materials. Her roses, she estimated, cost five times as much to grow as it costs for a rose to be imported.

The tariff decision’s timing, Hahn said, was especially harmful because the domestic cut flower industry is already suffering during COVID-19 with weddings and other events canceled.

"Absolutely terrible timing," Hahn said.

Dave Pruitt, CEO of the California Cut Flower Commission, told the Capital Press major retailers nationwide have closed floral departments this year and giants like Greenleaf Wholesale Florist Inc. have filed bankruptcy.

A few decades ago, the U.S. cut flower industry was flourishing — but not anymore.

In 1991, in an effort to disrupt cocaine trafficking in Colombia, the U.S. government suspended import duties on Colombian flowers. It was a boon for Colombia, but sales of U.S. roses dropped 95%. Data from USDA show the number of U.S. rose growers producing over $100,000 in sales a year fell from 225 farms to 34 farms between 1991 and 2018.

Colombian flowers have now long been imported duty-free, but Ecuadorian flowers still carried duties.

March this year, several importing companies and the Government of Ecuador petitioned the Trump Administration to cut tariffs.

U.S. rose growers told the Capital Press they and their national organizations fought the move for months, asking the Administration to stick by its "America first" promises.

For many industry leaders, Friday’s decision came as a shock."I cried when I saw the announcement because I had been so hopeful the International Trade Commission would see what a big blow this would be for American farmers," said Kelly Shore, owner and floral designer of Petals by the Shore, a floral event company that sources from domestic producers.In contrast, Ecuador’s vice minister of commerce, Daniel Legarda, welcomed the decision, saying in a statement it came just in time for Valentine’s Day since rose orders will be placed in December.But not every American flower expert feels gloomy.Debra Prinzing, founder and creative director of Slow Flowers Society, an organization that promotes American-grown flowers, said although she’s disappointed, she believes florists who are ideologically committed to buying domestically sourced flowers will continue to do so."It sucks. But I think it’s […]

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