Robert Guenther Discusses Key Topics for United Fresh 2017 Washington Conference
- by Melissa De Leon Chavez
WASHINGTON, DC - United Fresh is at the ready as it approaches the annual Washington Conference come Monday.
It's no secret this is an active time in the industry on Capitol Hill. But, as recognized by Senior VP of Public Policy Robert Guenther, next week will be one of the first times produce will get a chance to meet with the new Administration en masse since President Trump's election.
To emphasize why it is important that all sides of produce attend, Robert took the time to answer a few questions on what to anticipate during the September 18 to 20 conference in Washington, DC.
It's been a busy time with so many initiatives that the produce industry is watching, what are a couple you'd like to spotlight leading up to the big event?
You are correct that the produce industry has so many important issues we are grappling with at this time. With the diversity of commodities, regions, and business structures United Fresh is always engaged in a wide variety of issues that impact the fresh produce industry in Washington, DC. However, I think that two that will really carry on throughout the Fall and most likely into next year are immigration reform and international trade.
Can you tell me a bit about the discussions with immigration?
On the immigration front, as you know the U.S. fruit and vegetable industry is in crisis due to an ever-worsening shortage of labor. There is a critical need to reform our broken immigration system and help build a legal and reliable workforce. While Congress has come close several times to addressing this issue, fear and politics have always intervened.
Long-term, we must have a twofold labor solution–a pathway to legal status for our valued undocumented workers already engaged in agriculture, and a new guest-worker program adequate to bring in skilled agriculture workers in our labor-intensive industry.
What are some solutions that might be found this year?
While many bills dealing with parts of the problem have been introduced in both the House and Senate, Congress has not taken action on meaningful immigration policy changes in nearly four years. However, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte has indicated he will move legislation to develop a new guest-worker program through his committee this month.
Despite the rhetoric we often hear, there may actually be movement on the immigration front this Fall. We will hear from Chairman Goodlatte and about this bill at our Tuesday Lunch session.
Can you tell us more about what is going on with trade?
On trade, the U.S. fruit and vegetable industry is highly dependent upon international trade, both exports from the U.S. and imports into the country. However, specific patterns of trade vary greatly between different commodities. For example, exports are a major part of U.S. apple production, while the vast majority of avocados consumed in the U.S. come from Mexico, Chile, and Peru.
With this diversity, United Fresh has always supported free and fair trade globally, seeking to open markets to U.S. products while committing to reciprocal access for products to the United States.
For the produce industry, we are facing a very challenging time related to NAFTA. We all recognize that U.S. producers of certain commodities in certain regions face more competitive markets than others from Mexican or Canadian production. Yet we also respect produce commodities that count on our NAFTA partners as a significant export opportunity.
The goal is to find the right trade policy that ensures negatively impacted sectors do not face unfair, state-supported competition. This type of trade policy also cannot erect protectionist barriers which would only be mimicked by other countries to protect their own industries from U.S. exports. This attempt at a balanced trade policy approach has led us to some challenging debates in the produce industry that we have not seen in years.
For this year’s conference, we have several individuals speaking at our education session from the Administration and Congress that are directly involved in these NAFTA negotiations and can share some light into progress being made.
With your experience in the industry and having seen so much leading United Fresh, what would you say sets this conference apart?
The Washington Conference is that unique opportunity where the fresh produce industry comes together from all over the country and is able to tell their story to elected officials and the Administration of why decisions that they are making on legislation and regulations impact our businesses in a particular way.
United Fresh is headquartered in Washington, DC for one reason: to represent the fresh produce industry before Congress and the Administration and to advocate for an policy and regulatory environment that enhances business opportunities, innovation, and growth for our members. Our staff spends every workday pushing and pulling for issues important to our industry.
The industry coming to Washington, DC next week only reinforces our efforts and provides a reality check to Washington, DC about their impact on our industry.
Why is it more important than ever that industry members attend this year's Washington Conference?
I would say that we are facing interesting times in Washington. Certainly this will be the first opportunity to interact with the Trump Administration since President Trump was sworn in in January. But also, when you look at the really important issues that confront our industry and the window of opportunity for these issues to be addressed, it is critical that our industry come together with one voice and passion next week to show what the Power of Fresh really means.
This year's Washington Conference kicks off Monday, Sept. 18th and continues through the 20th. As all eyes turn to DC, keep checking in with AndNowUKnow as we eagerly await the latest.