Brightening Up Profits for Sunshine State Citrus Growers

by Emma Preston

When considering the citrus that lines our grocery store shelves, it’s easy to forget that the bright fruits before us have traveled long distances before making their way to our shopping carts. Florida grown oranges, for example, are exported all over the world, but imposed tariffs and trade barriers make an already long voyage overly complicated and expensive. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), however, will simplify international trade by reducing excess taxes - supporting Florida orange exports. And it couldn’t come at a better time.

Unfortunately, the underbelly of the Florida orange industry has grown ripe with more than just its citrus, as the development of a bacterium referred to citrus greening has begun to plague farmers’ crops. And the toll is coming straight out of their pockets. In some cases, locals already contending with a variety of pests and viruses are upping their spending by 300% to combat the epidemic. And even then, their baskets remain just as empty as their wallets. According to a report published by the University of Florida, not only are farmers spending more, they’re producing 42% fewer oranges.  

Florida ranks in the top 10 U.S. states for its level of exports, garnering in 2014 over $4 billion in agricultural shipments alone, and is second only to Brazil in its global circulation of orange juice. But current trade regulations allow Florida’s largest importers to heavily tax the state’s citrus exports, like Japan, which imposes tariffs as high as 32% on oranges and 29.8% on orange juice from the U.S. These tariffs further increase the cost of U.S. orange exports and diminish profits- making citrus greening especially devastating to today’s farmers.

It’s safe to say that, for Florida farmers, the orange industry has grown increasingly convoluted. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The TPP would ease the increasingly weighty financial burden shouldered by Floridian citrus farmers by providing measures that would reduce tariffs in major international markets.  

The TPP cuts foreign tariffs on Florida’s orange juice exports by 43%, making it less expensive for consumers, driving up foreign demand and revenue. This is especially noteworthy when considering that TPP members Japan, Canada, and Singapore are among Florida’s top orange importers. The agreement to mutually cut tariffs improves conditions and livelihoods within the export industry in Florida, 95.3% of which are small and medium businesses. This means that the cost of citrus greening could be, at least in part, counteracted by the increased cash flow from TPP-induced revenues.

Even in an increasingly globalized world, our biggest challenges can have frustratingly microscopic roots. Take, for example, the Asian psyllid, the tiny insect thought to harbor the bacteria spoiling so many Floridian groves. As scientists continue to investigate the disease, it’s important to note that measures can be taken in the meantime. The TPP is one such solution. It will cut tariffs and bolster job opportunities, allowing local farmers and the industry they’ve built to remain competitive in an international market. Giving much needed financial cushion until a long term solution is found for Florida’s oranges.