Mexican tariffs will squeeze Oregon

PORTLAND — Mexico's decision to impose tariffs on dozens of U.S. products could cost Oregon exporters tens of millions of dollars.

The duties, sparked by the Obama administration's cancellation of a cross-border trucking program, include 20 percent tariffs on Christmas trees, pears and frozen potatoes, all of which Oregon sells to Mexico.

Bill Brewer, executive director of the Oregon Potato Commission, told The Oregonian newspaper that the United States could lose its entire $80 million in annual french-fry exports to Mexico because competitors in Canada won't have to pay $16 million in tariffs.

"The vote was to save jobs for the unions, but it's going to cause problems for several other industries," he said.

The trucking program, begun in 2007, allowed a few Mexican trucks to transport goods into the United States. It was a step toward complying with a requirement of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement that Mexican trucks gain full access to U.S. highways.

The Teamsters union, consumer groups and independent insurers pressured Congress to keep the trucks off U.S. roadways, citing safety concerns. But strong opposition came from unions concerned about U.S. drivers losing work to lower-paid Mexican drivers

Mexican officials described the action as protectionist and announced the tariffs would start Thursday. Northwest Christmas-tree growers, who expect to ship as many as 2 million trees to Mexico this year, hope the dispute can be settled before their season is affected. Pear growers, however, don't have the luxury of time. They will be hurt immediately.

"They're trying to hurry up and get the ones that are en route down to the border so they can process them today without being assessed the tariff," Jeff Correa, Pear Bureau Northwest's international marketing director, said on Wednesday.

Mexico is a $47 million market for the Northwest's 1,500 pear growers.

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