|USFDC Home||| RSS|
This item is only available as the following downloads:
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 standalone no
record xmlns http:www.loc.govMARC21slim xmlns:xsi http:www.w3.org2001XMLSchema-instance xsi:schemaLocation http:www.loc.govstandardsmarcxmlschemaMARC21slim.xsd
leader cim 2200445Ia 4500
controlfield tag 001 024862339
006 m h
007 sz zunnnnnzned
008 060216s2005 fluuun sd t eng d
datafield ind1 8 ind2 024
subfield code a C56-00001
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by William Mansfield.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (70 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (digital, PDF file)
Florida citrus oral history project
The interview focuses on the transportation of oranges from field to processor, and discusses the Citrus Tariff Oversight Committee and its efforts to influence free trade legislation through lobbying.
Mode of access: World Wide Web.
Interview conducted June 22, 2005, in LaBelle, Fla.
Citrus fruit industry
Florida Citrus Mutual.
Tariff on oranges.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Florida Studies Center.
Oral History Program.
University of South Florida.
University of South Florida.
Globalization Research Center.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
C O P Y R I G H T N O T I C E T h i s O r a l H i s t o r y i s c o p y r i g h t e d b y t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a L i b r a r i e s O r a l H i s t o r y P r o g r a m o n b e h a l f o f t h e B o a r d o f T r u s t e e s o f t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a C o p y r i g h t 2 0 0 7 U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a A l l r i g h t s r e s e r v e d T h i s o r a l h i s t o r y m a y b e u s e d f o r r e s e a r c h i n s t r u c t i o n a n d p r i v a t e s t u d y u n d e r t h e p r o v i s i o n s o f t h e F a i r U s e F a i r U s e i s a p r o v i s i o n o f t h e U n i t e d S t a t e s C o p y r i g h t L a w ( U n i t e d S t a t e s C o d e T i t l e 1 7 s e c t i o n 1 0 7 ) w h i c h a l l o w s l i m i t e d u s e o f c o p y r i g h t e d m a t e r i a l s u n d e r c e r t a i n c o n d i t i o n s F a i r U s e l i m i t s t h e a m o u n t o f m a t e r i a l t h a t m a y b e u s e d F o r a l l o t h e r p e r m i s s i o n s a n d r e q u e s t s c o n t a c t t h e U N I V E R S I T Y O F S O U T H F L O R I D A L I B R A R I E S O R A L H I S T O R Y P R O G R A M a t t h e U n i v e r s i t y o f S o u t h F l o r i d a 4 2 0 2 E F o w l e r A v e n u e L I B 1 2 2 T a m p a F L 3 3 6 2 0
Citrus Oral History Project Globalization Research Center University of South Florida Interview with: George Austin Interviewed by: William Mansfield Location: La Belle, Florida Date: June 22, 2005 Transcribed by: Wm. Mansfield Edited by: Wm. Mansfi eld [Tape 1, Side A.] Bill Mansfield: I always but a label on the disk by saying, This is Bill Mansfield from the University of South Floridas Globalization Research Center talking with Mr. George Austin in his offices in La Belle, Florida on June 22, 2 005. And Mr. Austin, we always get people to start out by having them state their name and telling when they were born and wher e they were born. So let her go. George Austin: Okay. My name is George Austin. M y birthday is December 6, 1936. I was born in the little town of Alva, Florida, which is between F ort Myers and LaBelle. Mansfield: Tell me about your education. Austin: I went to high school and graduated from high school in Alva. It was a real small high school. Had about t en people in my graduating class, so you can imagine how small the school was. From there I went to the University of Florida, in Gainesville and I have a degree from the College of Architecture, a degree in building construction from the College of Archit ecture at the University of Florida. [phone call interrupts interview] Mansfield: From majoring in architecture how did you get into citrus?
2 Austin: I grew up in the business. My father came to the area in the 1920s with the railroad. He was a telegr aph operator for the railroad. We had railroad in Alva at the time and had several citrus packing houses. He ended up being the manager at one of the packinghouses. I grew up in the business and after he passed away in 1966, [ I came back over here and took over a small business that he had developed, af ter the packinghouse had closed] I was working i n the construction business and at that time I was in Miami and when he passed away, Mansfield: Okay. And how would you describe you current oc cupation? Austin: Well, thats a good question. [laughs] Im not sure. People ask me all the time and Im not sure. I cant describe it, real well. I operated this business of my own, from 1966 to 1995. At that time, do to various reasons, I sold the asse ts of the business to Oakley Groves, Incorporated, who I currently work for, and had a two year employment agreement and here I am, basically ten years later, still working for them. Ive never had a real specific job description but I do a little manageme nt. Buy a little fruit and I do just various things that they need me to do. So, to answer your question, I dont have any specific title or necessarily any job description or responsibility, but Ive done a little bit of everything for the company, for t he last ten years. Mansfield: What does Oakley Groves do? Austin: Oakley Groves, [are, primarily ] growers. They are the largest fruit hauled in the state of Florida. They also have a packinghouse. Then theres the other side of the business that has a food grade transport business, so they haul a lot of orange juice as well as other commodities. But its a fairly large family owned business thats been in the [citrus] industry for a long, long time. Mansfield: Okay. It sounds like they cover a lot of t he aspects of the Florida citrus, growing the fruit, fresh market fruit, processed what concentrate I guess?
3 Austin: We dont actually do any processing, per say, but we do have the packing house and we ship a lot of fresh product and as well as growing fr uit, we buy fruit from other growers. We market a lot o four fruit through the major processors, Tropicana, Southern Gardens, you know uh Coke a Cola, people like that.. Mansfield: Okay, the main thing Im interested in talking to you about is your activi ties on the Citrus Tariff Oversight Committee. So tell me how you became a member of that committee? Austin: [chuckles] Im not real sure. Any way, when the President or Congress, I guess it was, gave the President trade promotional authority, primarily t o negotiate the Free Trade Area of the Americas, the FTAA. It raised a lot of concern it the citrus industry because the FTAA would have covered all of the countries in the Western Hemisphere, with the exception of Cuba. I think there are probably thirty f our countries involved in that negotiation and Brazil was one of the companies or countries, and of course they are largest citrus producer in the world, and Floridas main competition. So it got the attention of Florida Citrus Mutual, the Florida Citrus Commissions Department of Citrus and so it was felt that the industry needed to have a separate committee to specifically address, you know, the tariff issue and what we could do about preserving the tariff. Because, its pretty well understood in the ind ustry that we cant compete with imported Brazilian product without the tariff. So, the initial committee was an appointed committee, by Bob Crawford, who at the time was the executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus at the time, and Andy LaVi gne got together. They came up with a list of names that they thought would be good to serve on the committee. And so it was an appointed committee. Im not quite sure how I ended up on it. I guess one of the reasons is that Ive been somewhat active, fro m the in industry affairs from the southwest Florida area and had served on the Florida Citrus Commission in the past. I was asked to serve on the committee, I think there was originally, thirteen or fourteen of us on the initial committee. Unfortunately I was having some minor surgery and missed the first meeting and got appointed chairman. So I was the first chairman of the CTOC. [laughs]
4 Mansfield: And when was it formed? Austin: Oh! [clicks his tongue as he thinks] I guess it was would have been the Spring of 2003. Id have to go back and verify that. Mansfield: How did they did they tell you, you were on the committee or did they ask you? Austin: They asked me. They asked me would I serve on the committee and I agreed to do that. I was serving o n the, what was it the another committee for Mutual at the time and was actually chairing that committee also. I told them that I didnt feel like I could [chair] both [committees], but I thought this was an important committee to serve on. Mansfield: How did they explain the mission of the committee? Austin: Well, initially, I think we developed a mission statement and that sort of thing, after the committee was formed. But initially we had one focus and one goal and that was to preserve the existing ta riff on imported product from Brazil. Because with the FTAA negotiations, we just felt like that was, you know, the bottom line. Mansfield: Tell me about the other members on the committee. It was a fairly heavy weight committee as far as the people that served on it. We had people from number one, I think the ah Florida Citrus Mutual and the Department of Citrus, or Florida Citrus Commission, who were originally involved with it, [they] are no longer involved with it, but initially, they were involved wit h forming the committee. I think they did a very good job of picking the various members of the committee. They represented all the areas of the state. Geographically, it was well presented. Also, it included most of the people that had provided leadership in the industry in the past and presented a large portion of the acreage in the state.
5 Mansfield: I just want to make sure I understand it. It was like they had to cover the orange growing areas, geographically and people who had experience in other comm ittees, like with their Austin: Yeah, just that had been involved various leadership positions in the past, and/or represented very large in other words when you took the total committee [the members] represented a fair percentage of the acreage in the s tate. Mansfield: So it was primarily large growers? Austin: It was primarily large growers, because it was a fairly influential committee, as far as representing the major players, so there was a number of large growers represented on the committee. I g uess you would have to say it was made up primarily of larger growers Mansfield: Tell me about your duties as chairman of the committee. Austin: [sighs] Well, we started out with some major decisions to make. Number one you know how theres a couple of t hings. We felt like it needed to be an independent committee, from any of the other existing organizations in the state. Wed ah Im having to think back through it. Mansfield: Take your time. Austin: But one of the things that we initially had to determ ine was how it was going to structured. We knew this effort was going to take a lot of money. And then how do we structure it? We knew it had to be some kind of a non profit structure. We looked at a totally independent entity, a 50 1 C 3, or whatever the nonp rofit category is. In the end, the finial result was we ended up being an Ad Hoc committee of Florida Citrus Mutual. And independent committee, but an Ad Hoc committee just because of the need to the finical structure needs, requirements of the committee.
6 Then there were a lot of other issues that had to be resolved regarding primarily how to fund the effort was the major hurdle we had try to work through. I think I told you [clears throat takes a drink of water] Excuse me. I think I told you before that Florida Citrus Mutual the Florida Department of Citrus was initially involved, the Florida Citrus Commission. Initially we had talked about them doing part of the funding and Florida Citrus Mutual doing part of the funding and also collecting some kind of box tax from the growers to do. We felt like or we thought we needed approximately seven million dollars, over a two year period of time, to accomplish at the time I guess we all knew that it wasnt going to be over in two years B ut that was the critical time frame that we needed to be concerned with as far as our budgeting and our initial efforts for preserving the tariff. Well, as it turned out, and youve probably talked to some other people, we had some issues regarding this funding. The Florida Citru s Commission had some other focuses in place. Not the least being the advertising and promotion of Florida orange juice. And of course they are a public entity and they operate in the sunshine and there was a question about, if they funded some of this pro ject, were talking about, were they subject to the sunshine law? There was concerns expressed in those areas. The citrus industry was going through some fairly tough economic times. There was a lawsuit, that you may be aware of, regarding the box tax in place. Some of the people who serve on the CTOC were part of that lawsuit, they were part of the litigates in the lawsuit. So, we had some initial difficulty in figuring out the level of involvement of the Florida Citrus Commission in relationship to Mutua l s involvement. The end result, after a lot of back and forth, the Florida Citrus Commission agreed to reduce their box tax for the first year, by a cent and a half. [That allowed] the CTOC to go to the growers and ask them to substitute that cent and a h alf, that they would have paid to the Florida Citrus Commission in box tax, to fund the CTOC. Basically, after that, the Department of Citrus and the Citrus Commission was out of the picture. It became a Florida Citrus Mutual CTOC effort. In that initia l agreement, regarding funding, I believe that Florida Citrus Mutual agreed to donate five hundred thousand dollars to the effort. [They] also agreed to loan
7 the CTOC a substantial amount of money, in an agreement in which they would be paid back for the l oan portion of their commitment to the CTOC. Mansfield: What kind of reaction did reaction did you get from the growers when you went to them and said, The tax is removed. Wed like for you to pay this tax? Austin: I would say, generally, we got a good response. Canker wasnt quite the issue that is today. So the industry was struggling economically, it was pretty well understood, within the industry, among commercial growers, that without the tariff, it would be just a matter of time before they ha d to go out of business. So, we got fairly good reception. I cant tell you exactly what the percentage of the collection rate was. It was a voluntary tax, by the way, as opposed to the mandatory tax that the commission collects. But I think we probably en ded up, somewhere in the 70 75% collection range the first year. While I dont know that we totally broke even, we did have a reasonably good collection effort. Mansfield: Well, it seems like it would be in their best interests to support the [voluntary t ax.] Austin: Right. Most people [In any business youre in, or any industry youre in] theres always independent people that dont want to be a part of a common effort. But I felt pretty good about how we were able to fund the effort the first year. Man sfield: What kind of reactions were there in the CTOC? I mean youve got different people Austin: There were, and I dont think theres any question about that, because we had a number of large corporations represented in the CTOC. Several of them had ot her commodity interests, primarily sugar. They had a little different approach to, the politics, the political process than some of the other people on the committee, the pure citrus growers, or people that were representing only citrus did. We had the opp osition to the
8 box tax [on the committee] which in itself has created some friction and some faction there. But I would say, at the end of the day [everybody felt like the ultimate goal was the preservation of the tariff]. Even though we had some disagreem ents, or at least some concerns about how we would approach the issue (what we were trying to accomplish) at the end of the day, and we didnt let the various factions influence our ultimate goal. Mansfield: I dont want to put you on the spot or anythin g, but who were the leaders of the different factions? Austin: Well, we had, Ben Hill Griffin III was on the board. He has pure citrus interests. And then we had people like US Sugar. (Im trying to think if they had a pure representative or not at that t ime.) I know that later they had the CEO of Southern Gardens on there. But they had a little different approach to [pauses as he chooses his words] because they did represent the sugar interests. Then we had some people from the Florida Citrus Commission t hat served. They had a little they felt like that they, you know the Commission or the Department should be more involved in the process. I guess the bottom line is that we were coming from about three different directions. Not that fact that anybody was 180 degrees opposed to anyone else. We were coming at this thing from three different directions to accomplish our goals. In addition to, lets say, we had some people involved like Consolidated Citrus, that had both citrus and sugar interests, the same as Southern Gardens or US Sugar. And, like I said, we had at least one commissioner from the Department of Citrus on board. Actually, we ended up with a couple and one time or another. So we had some issues that they were concerned about. One of the things, they were initially committed to some funding for the effort, other than just reducing their box tax rate. And there were some issues about how this money could be spent, would be spent and still maintain the you know, with in their authority as to what t hey could spend money on and that sort of thing. I guess it boils down to the little different approach that the sugar industry has taken in the past to their political efforts and the other thing with the Department of Citrus and the Citrus Commission, r egarding funding.
9 Mansfield: Sounds like you all wanted to go to the same place, but couldnt agree on how to get there. Austin: Yeah .We had a little problem in getting there initially. Ill have to say that. We did. The end result was fine. I think the re was always a question of the other thing is, when we did agree to bring our Washington law firm on board Well, actually when we first began talking to them they provided a lot of help and a lot of direction. [They helped us decide] what kind of approa ch should we take with congress, with the USTR, you know, the US Trade Representatives office. [They helped with] what kind of lobbying efforts should we take a look at. How should we approach the Florida [congressional] delegation? What kind of public re lations should we be involved with? Hoe do we tell our story to the public? What should we do about trying to better understand the Brazilian end of the industry? Where were they coming form? How do you understand the negotiations? How do you understand whats important to another country in these trade negotiations. Because under the FTAA, I mean there were a number of issues. It wasnt just agricultural commodities, there were banking laws uh intellectual property issues. There were a lot of other think s beside just agricultural commodities. Mansfield: You all had quite a task in front of you, figuring out how to take this on. But you said, once you figured out how to fund the committee you had to decide on what course to take to shape the legislation, who to talk to and how to talk to them and such. And I just want to make sure I understand you correctly. You said there were conflicting ideas about how best to do that? Im I understanding that correctly? Austin: To the degree that initially the Florida Department of Citrus was involved and there was conflicting ideas, because there were some of these things that we didnt feel like should be subject to the sunshine law, certainly in our initial efforts. So there were some concerns that if the Florida De partment of Citrus/Citrus Commission was going to be involved, how could they fund some of these things with out being subject to [public scrutiny], with out them violating the sunshine law.
10 And I guess on the other side, there was concern about, particu larly from some of the people who represented the sugar interests whether we were spending enough money or not. One of the other things we had a tough time with was trying to figure out what level of funding that we would need. So we were somewhat all over the board there. You know, whether you take how strong approach should you take in your lobbying efforts? Whether we do some of this with a carrot or with a stick. And I think this is where the law firm that we hired, provided some excellent leadership. They were involved on both sides of the aisle in Washington. They understood the trade process. They gave us some excellent guidance about where we should spend our money and how strong, what kind of approach should we take in any kind of lobbying efforts. Mansfield: And what law firm did you all hire? Austin: It was Aiken and Gump. Theyve got as longer name than that, if you need it. But thats what we [call them]. Mansfield: With a name like Gump Austin: [laughs] I know. That was my first questio n, You hired a law firm by the name of Gump? [laughs] Mansfield: But they sort of helped educate the committee about how best to work through Washington? Austin: Yes. Yes. They did an excellent job in that respect. They are well connected. We had two people from the firm that were kind of directly responsible for our efforts. One was a person by the name of Bill Paxson who was a former legislator from New York State. Even though he worked for the law firm I dont know that he was a lawyer. But he cert ainly understood the political process very well. [He] represented the Republican side of the aisle. And then we had a person, an attorney by the name of Joel Jankowsky, and
11 he represented the Democratic side of the aisle in the effort. You know, youre a little apprehensive about going out and securing some outside help and whether youre picking the right person or not, but I feel real good about [our choice of lobbyist]. I wasnt directly involved in that process Bob Crawford and Any LaVigne, they broug ht the firm to us, as a recommendation. But I think they did an excellent job in selecting that firm. Mansfield: Once the firm was selected and then you all began lobbying Washington? I dont know how else to put it. Austin: Yeah, let me back up just a minute. I know you spent some time on trying to get an understanding about where some different people in the committee where coming from. There were, and I think I alluded to it, there were some people who felt like we werent spending enough money, but on the other side there were some people who felt like we were spending WAY too much money in our effort to preserve the tariff. They felt like that the industry, especially because Jeb Bush was governor of the state of Florida, Georges brother, whatever That we didnt have to spend as much money as we were spending. So there were a lot of things and I dont know there wasnt any serious divides. But there were some things that kind of had to be reconciled. Mansfield: Well, lets see US Sugar, were they on the not enough money side? Austin: They were on the more aggressive side. They were [saying], Are we spending enough money? side of it. And then we had some people that in the industry, some leadership in the industry that felt like, You guys don t need to be spending this kind of money. Were politically solid enough as it is. [phone rings] Mansfield: And who were they? Austin: They were uh Bill Becker comes to mind. He was one of them for example. One of his people was the chairman of the Fl orida Citrus Commission at the time. What
12 was his name? I cant think of it off hand. It might have come up in one of your other interviews. Mansfield: It wasnt Mr. Crawford was it? Austin: No. He was oh I dont have a very good memory. Maybe Ill thin k of it. Or we can get it to you later. Mansfield: Okay Austin: And, you know, here again, I dont want to [give you the impression] fights about this. There werent any hard feelings, or anything. But there were just some things regarding the spending l evel, and how aggressive an approach we should be taking. We had to agree on [it]. We had to go through the process, until everybody got reasonably comfortable. Mansfield: Okay. So once youd chosen the la w firm and started working, tell me what you all di d. Austin: Well, we had some other consulting firms, in addition to the major law firm. Most of them worked under the major law firm. The law firm focused on the US Trade Representatives office and Congress, trying to educate them on what our issues wer e; w hy we were so concerned. Why we felt like our situation was so unique that there was justification for leaving us out of any negotiations regarding the reduction of the tariff on citrus. On the local level, Mutual, Gulf Citrus, Peace River, Indian Ri ver, we all got involved on the local level. We went to chambers [of commerce meetings]. We went to various governmental entities. We tried to get endorsements, from the Chamber of Commerce, in various areas. I know, in Fort Myers, Lee County has a large e conomic development office. Their advisory group is called the Horizon Council. It is represented by various business and interests in the county. One of the things we did is went to them
13 and asked them for an endorsement, regarding our effort and to help preserve the tariff on citrus. Basically, we did a lot of trying to tell our story on the local level, as well as [in Washington]. And we made several trips top Washington and met with some of the key people. And certainly [we met with] the people from the Florida [congressional] delegation. Put I guess, primarily we tried to do a lot of work at home. Our attorneys tried to give us a lot of help in Washington. I guess whats Putnams first name? Mansfield: Andy? Andrew Putnam? Austin: Is it Andy? [Adam] Mansfield: Well, the representative. [Adam Putnam.] Austin: Yeah, any way, in looking back on it, and even at the time, he was the catalyst that made al of this happen. What success weve had [is to a large degree, due to his efforts in Washington and having the presidents ear to some degree. He was on the plane with the President during the 9/11 thing. The President certainly wants these negotiations to work. But [Putnam] has taken a very strong approach as far as the industry is concerned. Theres be e n a lot of effort.] I think weve had a lot of success, but it aint over and it may never be over. Mansfield: You said, you met with the Florida Delegation in Washington and some other key people? Who were the other key people that you met with? Austin : Itd be people like ah the Secretary of Agriculture, for example. We met with the Secretary of Commerce. I think Evans, was the Secretary of Commerce at the time. We certainly met with a number of people in the Trade Representatives office. [We] met wi th ah Martinez, when he was Secretary of Health and Human Services, or what ever it was.
14 [End Tape 1, Side A. Begin Tape 1, Side B.] Austin : We met with him some key people, from other agricultural producing states. One of the things that we were looking for was, Where do we establish our coalitions? If i t comes to a long drawn out process, who are our friends? We had discussions as to, What other agricultural commodities can you depend on? Is organized labor, is that a place where you can get some help You look at the environmental community. Generally, citrus is perceived as environmentally friendly crop. We tried to look at a large scope of people that would have similar interests as far as the agreement might [effect them]. Mansfield: And how did you alter your story, your presentation, from group to group? Austin: We really didnt alter it very much. I think we stayed pretty much on line with our story. You know, Ive never been able to sell something I didnt believe in. And I guess, philosophically, I can appreciate our need to expand trade. If n ot world wide, then certainly in our own hemisphere. But by the same token, we had a unique situation and we had very compelling arguments as to why the citrus tariff should not be part of any negotiations for the reduction of the citrus tariff. So I felt real comfortable with the story we had to tell. But, even thought these arguments made a lot of sense to me. I still think they are good arguments. We also realized, at the end of the day, this was going to be a political decision, and not based on an inte llectual arguments. And I think most of the arguments, or most of the reasoning that we presented, didnt require changing the focus. [ cell phone rings] Certainly, if you were talking to people who were environmentally sensitive, you talked a little bit mo re about the green space, the wild life habitat that citrus provides, water retention and the water recovery areas that the citrus industry provides, and that sort of thing. But the bottom line is, we didnt alter our argument a lot. I guess, what we felt like our what I felt like any way, was that I lost my train of thought, that damn phone. I should but this in my car.
15 Mansfield: You were talking about the way you presented your story. Austin: I guess its an over simplification. But I felt like this trade agreement or the [cell phone rings] [pause] or the elimination of the citrus tariff. And here again, I know there are other countries involved but most of the Caribbean bases countries are exempt anyway. Mexico was negotiated under NAFTA and [its tar iff] is down to some thirty third of what it was. But and the bottom line is were talking about Brazil. I guess one of the arguments I was comfortable with is that, you know, the reduction of the tariff on citrus didnt accomplish what it was suppose to [cell phone rings] It wasnt going to make citrus juice any cheaper, because were taking about the two largest juice producers in the world. Somewhere between 75% and 85% of worlds orange juice is produced in Brazil [cell phone rings]. If you reduce th e tariff and put Florida out of business, youll end up with a monopoly. So I always thought that was a legitimate argument, along with the jobs and the environmental sort of thing. So I felt comfortable with our position. Mansfield: Well, I asked that qu estion because I was curious as to whether or not you tailored your arguments to address a particular group, like the environmentalists [cell phone rings]. Austin: To some degree, but not substantially. Mansfield: What about other agricultural states, wh at would you say to them to enlist them? Austin: My thinking is there are some states that felt like any kind of trade agreement would be a benefit to them. So I guess I dont know how to answer the question other than the fact that you dont try to chan ge their philosophy but you just try to make them under stand that youre coming that it effects you differently than t might affect someone else.
16 Mansfield: What kind of response did you get from different groups? Austin: Actually, we got a much better response, a lot more favorable response than I ever anticipated. Just about all the chambers [of commerce] went on record [in support of us]. Here again, when we re talking about preservi n g the Florida citrus industry, we re talking about a way of life in the state o f Florida. W e re talking about probably t he number one or number two industry in the stat e, other than tourism. So you re almost talking about an apple pie sort of think when you talk about the citrus industry in the state. Of all the agr icultural commodities in the state, in my op inion, citrus has the best image. Mansfield: [laughs] It s a d a rn sight bett e r th a n tobacco, that s for sure. Austin: [laughs] R ight, exactly. [cell phone rings] And quite f rankly it s better than sugar s image. W e re basically a non subsidized industry and th at always most people today are not really comfortable with a lot of subsidizes. So that alw ays sells wel l and comes across well. You know, we dont want the government to keep us in business. A ll we want is the, you know, opportunity to c ompete on the open market, with something to o ff set the difference in the cost of labor. Labor is not all of it, but it s the bulk of it. The difference of the cost of labor in growing ci trus and processing citrus in brazil, compared to Florida. Mansfield: Like, in Washington, how were you received by the different groups in Washin g ton ? Like the Agricultural D epartment, and those g r o ups? Austin: [pause] You know, you have to take anything that s said in Washington with a grain of salt. [laughs] But wit h the t w o or three trips I made, I felt real good about [it]. I know in our interview with the Secretary of C o mmerce, that uh he got pretty blunt and said, basically you know that You all h ave got a real problem ahead of you with thes e trade agreements. So we had a few people that were real blunt with us.
17 We had some people that were probabl y I can t think of the word but were probably catered too much to our position. Mansfield: Obsequious would that be a word to describe it? Austin: I don t know Mansfield: W ell, suck up, or k iss up to use laymen s terms. Austin: [laughs] Yeah, but over all I thin k we were well received Certainly, when you talk with the trade repre sentative s office, I me a n they got one thing in mind and that s the President, or Congres s gives them a missi on and they re not going to sit there and tell you that a nything is off the table. They are not going to make any commitment to you. You try to ge t them t talk in terms where you might be abl e to interpret some kind sympathy for your argu m e nt o r po sition But y ou know that s all to be expected And I fe lt real good about wh at we were able to [accomplish] wh o we were able see. The quality of the leadership and the various depart ments we were able to talk with, the high lev el of officials we were able to get an audien ce with. And, I felt okay with the response I didn t anticipate and wouldn t have expected anything different than we weren t going to get a com m i tment per s e, or spelled out to us, any way. Mansfield: You mentioned ap p ro a ching organized labor for support? A ustin: It was just something that was we tried to take a bro ad approach to it and not leave anything off the table. We did not, or to my knowledge we did not [ ? t a lk to organized labor ? ] But when you start thinking ab o ut who might h ave a common interest with you, a lot of time s you have to include you know groups li ke labor, even though we would have made aw ful strange bed fellows. Mansfield: A dversity does make strange bed fellows [laughs]
18 Austin: [laughs] R ight but certainly [ Intercom interrupts interview] Mansfield: ( I just want to make sure I got the recorder r unn ing again.) But anyhow, we were ta lking about haw adversity makes st r a nge bed fellows but as the cha i r man of the Ci trus Tariff Oversight Committee were you the arbitrator of these [di s pu t e s]? Au s tin: That s what I tr i e d that s what my goal was, is to try to bring any op posing interests to reach some kind of compromise in any differen ces of op inion, or opp o s ing interests. I can t say that I did a good job with that, but th a t was my number one objective as chairman. Certainly as the initial chairman, whe re we had to work through some o f these start up issues. Mansfield: W ere there any sub committees? Austin: We had some sub committ e es. I m trying to think, certainly we had budget type committees, regarding the voluntary t ax contribution s and to establi sh our budget levels, etc. I think we had a committee to try an d better understand [ the Brazilians. W hat was the i r app r o ac h? W hat was their philosophy? ] What were their true fe elings about the citrus tariff, as opposed to what just might be [ p r esented] by the media, or reading something. Trying to have a bette r u nderstanding of the pros and cons of the reduction in the tariff as it relates [interview interrupted ] M a n sfield: So any how you had the different [subcommittees]? Austin: We had three or four comm ittees, two or thre e committees, anyway that most of them were j ust t wo or three people Mansfield: And you served on the committee from the S pr ing of 03 until t ill when did you leave the committee?
19 Austin: I hope I got my years right. Maybe it was the S pring of 02 Could it have been the S pring of 02? Let m e see here I stayed on it about eighteen months, I thi nk. [ L ooks through documents ] I guess it was the Spring of 02. I m just looking at a letter here that was conf i r mation of the representati on of A iken and Gump as our attorney So I would have stayed til the Summer of 04. [Continues looking through documents ] You know, we were told early on that there w ould be big flurries of activity and then nothing would happen for days weeks, months whatever. And that s certainly been true. These negotiations ran into trouble, from the start. So, you know nothing has really been cast in stone. As far as I kno w they haven t even selected a location for the head quart ers. I mean, Mia mi seems to be the obvious place. It just seems like stuff goes on for ever and nothing ever ge ts accomplished. Mansfield: Well, that sounds like a good description of politics in general. Austin: [laughs] Mansfield: What is your over all feeling about the futu re of Flor ida s citrus industry? Austin: [pause] I think I d be a lot more positive about the future of t h e industry if i t hadn t been for the canker finds that seems to be over whel m ing us now. It s probably due t o the storms we had last summer. I felt like we we re optimistic in our efforts i n the ta riff are na, but you know canker seems to have taken center stage no w. If we continue to destroy all of this acreage becau se of canker, I don t know what kind of industry we re going to have left when it s all said and done. If it ever is all said and do ne. Plus the price of land is now appreciated so rapid ly i n the past couple of years A lot of people have elected to get out of the citrus business, because they can sell th eir groves at a big profit. And then we re ne ve r going to be the cheapest producer in the world and so I have a lot of questions about the future of the industry I certainly feel confident telling
20 you it w ill be a lot smaller industry than we ve had in the past. I just hope you know that we re abl e to have an industry of some significant size in the state. I think it is ben e ficia l, the state and to the people of Florida. Mansfield: W ell, I ve been thro wing questions at you for the past hour or so, is ther e anything you want to comment on? Is ther e a question that you wan t to answer that I haven t asked? Austin: I don t know. [pause] Can you think of any area tha t we haven t covered? Mansfield: I m sure that w hen I go back and listen to this inter view ther e will be a dozen questions that I could have asked. But we ll let it rest for the time being. But I will say thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I ve really enjoyed it. A nd I ll remind you again that the information you ve shared with me in this inter view will be deposited i n the U n iversity of South F l orida s Special Collections and I ll need to get you to sign a release form. Austin: Okay. Mansfield: Al so, I ve been photographing everybody I ve interviewed. D o you mind if I take your picture? Austin: I guess I don t [la u g hs] Mansfield: Well, great. Let me shut this thin g off [End of interview]