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Diane Kurrle, senior vice president of USApple Association, at the 113th Annual Meeting and NW Hort Expo in Kennewick, Washington, December 4, 2017. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

Diane Kurrle

The election of Donald Trump shocked pollsters, many voters and the Washington establishment.

For the past year, USApple has focused on what the election means for our members and our top priorities.

Every new administration brings both challenges and opportunities. USApple works to mitigate those challenges while seizing and even creating opportunities for our members.

We have focused on educating the Trump administration and Congress on key apple priorities and positions, with a strong emphasis on the industry’s economic footprint and the jobs it creates.

Apple growers large and small from east to west continue to cite labor as their No. 1 concern.

There is wide agreement that a legislative solution that includes both stabilization of the current workforce and a future flow of workers is needed to ensure a healthy and prosperous apple industry.

Candidate Trump promised to “build a wall,” vigorously enforce immigration laws, and make sure that Americans are not displaced by foreign workers.

Many growers and workers feared this would mean an increase in audits, raids and deportations. USApple has used every opportunity to educate Trump administration officials about the realities of the agriculture workforce and the critical role they play in maintaining and growing the apple industry and, in turn, rural economies.

In addition to tough talk on the border, candidate Trump also vowed to reduce regulatory burdens.

USApple and a small DC-based coalition of grower organizations began meeting shortly after the election to develop a list of H-2A improvements that could be made by the administration without rewriting the law.

The administration is listening.

President Trump has appointed a multi-agency working group headed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and charged with seeking improvements to the program. USApple is in close touch with USDA staff in that effort and we are providing input and suggestions as they move forward.

While regulatory relief would be welcomed, a legislative solution is also needed. USApple is a founding member of the Agriculture Workforce Coalition (AWC), a broad DC-based coalition of labor intensive agriculture groups.

USApple and other members of the AWC Steering Committee negotiated the agriculture title of the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate in 2013.

We have continued our efforts, keeping the issue alive and educating new House and Senate offices. We are urging key offices to support action while warning against efforts to pass enforcement legislation such as mandatory e-verify without reforms.

In October, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Agriculture Guestworker Act, which would replace the antiquated H-2A program with a streamlined, modern H-2C program.

USApple and the AWC met with Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte’s (R-Va.) staff throughout the process, offering suggestions and raising concerns where appropriate.

In order to secure votes from a number of the committee’s conservative members, changes were made to the legislation that were not supported by USApple or our coalition partners.

Passing the bill out of committee was a critical first step in the process and USApple applauds Chairman Goodlatte for his efforts.

We are now focused on the next steps in the process, seeking improvements to the Agriculture Guestworker Act, while insisting the House leadership keep their commitment not to move enforcement legislation unless it is coupled with meaningful reform.

Candidate Trump was skeptical of free trade agreements in general and quite critical of the North American Free Trade Agreement specifically.

For apples, Mexico and Canada are our two largest export markets. The industry has benefited greatly under NAFTA; from 1993 to 2015, exports to Mexico tripled while exports to Canada nearly doubled. U.S. apple sales to the two markets total more than $450 million annually.

The vast majority of those apples come from Washington, but the impact is felt nationwide. Apple growers on the East Coast understand the impact of trade on their bottom line even if the apples being traded are not theirs.

As a result, the apple industry has played a significant role in moving opinion on Capitol Hill when trade issues have come up with Mexico and Canada.

Apple growers from New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California and Virginia have joined those in Washington state to push their members of Congress to resolve the Mexican trucking dispute in 2010 and the country of origin (COOL) issue in 2014.

Now, the importance of maintaining the gains in NAFTA has been a top USApple priority this year for our staff and volunteer leadership.

Shortly after the presidential election, USApple and other DC-based agriculture groups began meeting and developing strategies for educating the new administration on the economic benefits of NAFTA to the agriculture sector.

We meet with all the members of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee frequently, as they have jurisdiction over the renegotiation of trade agreements including NAFTA.

USApple is also regularly communicating with key apple congressional offices regarding the importance of a strong export market and specifically for maintaining the gains in NAFTA.

USApple submitted comments to the Trump administration at the onset of the negotiations with a clear message: “Do no harm.”

The work that agriculture has done is making a difference. Back in the spring, there were reports that President Trump was on the verge of withdrawing from the agreement until Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue met with him and explained the potential economic ramifications on rural America.

USApple President & CEO Jim Bair authored an op-ed on the importance of NAFTA, which was published in the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 25.

That same week, I joined representatives from across business and agriculture sectors for a NAFTA lobbying day sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Negotiations are ongoing and expected to last into the first quarter of 2018. There are varying predictions about the potential outcomes.

USApple continues to seek every opportunity to educate the administration and Congress about the economic importance of NAFTA to our industry.

The past year has been very busy for apple issues, and 2018 promises to be the same with labor and trade still on the front burner and debate on the 2018 Farm Bill heating up. USApple will continue to advocate for the industry wherever and whenever possible. •

– by Diane Kurrle, senior vice president of the USApple Association. She can be reached at dkurrle@usapple.org.