On April 27, President Donald Trump met with Argentinian President Mauricio Macri in the Oval Office. During that meeting, Macri raised the issue of the 16-year United States import ban of lemons from northwest Argentina and Trump said he would look into it. Four days later, on May 1, the US Department of Agriculture announced that Argentinian lemons would be allowed in the country after May 26.
The details of the case show that it was not quite as simple as that. On December 23, 2016, before Trump ever took the oath of office, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) published a final order allowing the importation of Argentinian lemons. The final rule became effective on January 23, 2017, but was stayed on January 25, 2017, for 60-days, and again on March 17, 2017, for an additional 60-days.
On May 1, APHIS simply refused to extend the stay. Imports now allowed must meet “numerous requirements,” said an APHIS statement, and “USDA will not permit entry of lemons from northwest Argentina until all requirements are met.”
So it’s not as if Trump ordered APHIS to do a favor for his new friend. APHIS has been studying the matter and working with Argentinian officials for a decade on ways to alleviate concerns over diseases such as citrus blackspot and Huanglongbing which have been found in Argentinian crops. The timing of the announcement may have been coincidence or maybe Trump did give someone a nudge, in which case APHIS merely announced earlier rather than later what they were going to do anyway.
Perhaps more interesting is why Trump went to bat for a foreign supplier at the expense of the domestic industry, given his protectionist rhetoric, a circumstance which drove US producers apoplectic.
“It is evident that the California citrus industry is the pawn in a greater trade deal between the Trump administration and Argentina,” said Richard Pidduck, a citrus grower and chair of the U.S. Citrus Science Council. “The haste in which this announcement was made is nothing less than disrespectful and I am extremely disappointed by the administration’s complete disregard for domestic citrus producers.”
It was doubly ironic that the announcement came less than a week after Trump signed an executive order promoting US agriculture. “Allowing the importation of lemons from Argentina is a complete departure by the administration from its self-proclaimed stance against trade policies that place American businesses at a disadvantage,” said Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual. “The rule will open the floodgates to pests and diseases known to be in Argentina that could threaten our domestic lemon supply. It appears that to President Trump’s administration, the prosperity of the California citrus industry is not critical to America’s national security, stability, and prosperity.”
But from what we know of this president, he likes making new friends and doing favors for them to cement the relationship.