Yesterday’s historic and largely bipartisan passage of three free trade trade bills by Congress was not quite celebrated here in Santa Barbara County, for a deal to help cut flower growers in Carpinteria compete with Colombian growers was not included as part of the bill.
As The Independent reported here last month, Carp’s growers — as well as all those in the rest of California and the United States — have seen their industry hammered by often inferior Colombian imports because, in part, the South American country’s growers are subsidized by money to fight the drug war. To help level the playing field, Rep. Lois Capps and the state’s growers — a vast majority of which are in Carpinteria, the country’s largest cut-flower growing area — proposed an amendment to the bill that would have built a $15 million, 200,000-square-foot transportation depot in Oxnard that studies have shown would reduce shipping costs by 25 percent or more. But that, and every other amendment, was cut out of the bill due to the “delicate compromise” that was needed to get the bills passed. As such, Capps voted against the bill, and Carp’s growers are left hoping to find federal funding sometime in the near future.
“This agreement makes permanent trade preferences that have devastated California’s cut flower industry, which produces 80 percent of domestically grown flowers,” said Capps on the House of Representatives floor in her opposition speech this week. “This agreement continues millions of dollars in subsidies for Colombian flower growers, but provides no such support for our domestic growers. California’s growers have a plan to cut costs and compete globally, but they can’t do it alone. It’s only fair that our domestic flower growers get a little help from their government, too.”
Though disappointed and fearing that the Colombian agreement will “generate a future flood of new flower imports,” Kasey Cronquist, the head of the California Cut Flower Commission, is remaining optimistic that the depot center will still get federal support. “While the California Cut Flower Commission does not support the FTAs, we understand the importance of passing these agreements to the Obama administration and a range of American agriculture and industry,” said Cronquist in a statement. “We are grateful for the support for California flower farmers from the major players in this debate. We expect that they will continue to champion a modest proposal to benefit U.S. cut-flower farmers, who will remain the American industry most devastated by imports from Colombia.”
Capps echoed his hopes. “We aren’t giving up and will continue working with the administration to find funding for the project,” she said.