Washington Industry Has It's Day In Canadian Court
Potato growers, industry experts and economists presented historical, scientific and economic evidence through lawyers on behalf of the Washington potato industry at a three and one-half-day hearing before the Canadian International Trade Tribunal in Vancouver, British Columbia last week. The B.C. Vegetable Marketing Commission was seeking a continuance of anti-dumping duties levied on Washington potatoes for the past 21 years.
"The dumping duties that have been put in place have only protected Canadian growers by supporting them with an artificial price floor, discouraging them from seeking new means to increase quality and marketability of their own product," said Matt Harris, director of trade for the Washington State Potato Commission, on his return from the hearing.
The WSPC case included testimony presented by Dr. Joseph Guenthner, an agricultural economist from the University of Idaho, that fresh potato profitability has historically followed a six-year cycle in which some years show a profit, some are a loss and some barely break even. Economic evidence presented by Nick Young, an agricultural economist and president of Promar International, revealed that Washington potato exports to B.C. typically increase only when prices are up.
The data gathered by Young contradicted the B.C. growers' claims that the province is a dumping ground for low priced U.S. potatoes that cannot go anywhere else. Young also found that even the lowest price cycle for potatoes, price returns for B.C. potato growers are considerable.
"Our case was clearly the most substantial," said Harris. "It was intersting to listen to the detailed evidence about our industry and fun to watch the attorneys cross swords before the Tribunal."
Washington growers offering evidence included Allen Floyd from Othello, Jack Wallace from Skagit Valley, Del Christensen from Mattawa, and Dennis Conley, a Moses Lake consultant. Washington was represented by international trade and customs attorneys Joel Junker of Seattle, and Darrel Pearson of Gotteleib and Pearson in Toronto, Ontario.
"From whose testimony did you learn the most salient and detailed knowledge of nature and workings of this industry?" Junker asked the Tribunal in his closing argument. "Whose case had economists collect data on prices and returns for B.C. and Washington State that had never previously been assembled? And whose case gave you mere quotes from newspapers?"
By seeking a total of over 30 years of protection, Junker said the B.C. growers reminded him of a quote from a British politician, "They want a kinder capitalism, a gentler market economy and an air conditioned jungle."
"The CITT panel, consisting of professionals in business, law and economics, was very intent in learning the truth about how the North American potato industry functions with regard to marketing, supply, demand and price and that there are differences in potato varieties contrary to what the BCVMC believes," said Harris.
The BC Vegetable Marketing Commission conceded that dumping of red, yellow and exotic potatoes has not taken place and that those varieties should be removed from the dumping order. The WSPC still contended that the entire dumping order be removed on white and Russet varietes as well.
The CITT will render a decision on Septemer 12, 2005.