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Buying red roses? Spend more green

Florists see higher importing costs this year, which means flower shoppers are in for a surprise.

By J. NEALY-BROWN, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 8, 2002


Love isn't cheap. In fact, it will be $5 or $10 more expensive this year at some stores to buy a dozen long-stem red roses for Valentine's Day.

The higher price tag for roses, and similar increases for other flowers, has its unromantic roots in the international war on drugs.

In December, a law that eliminated duties on imported roses and other flowers from the Andean region expired. The law, called the Andean Trade Preference Act, was passed in 1991 to encourage exports other than illegal drugs such as cocaine from Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.

Without the exemption, a duty of almost 7 percent is charged on the imports, pushing retail prices of some premium roses across the state as high as $79.95 a dozen.

At Olivia's Flowers in St. Petersburg, the dozen roses that went for $65 last year are $75 this year.

"We have to charge more. We get stuck," owner Olivia Farrell said. Her male customers, however, don't seem to mind. "They know they have to get their girls a dozen roses no matter what the price is," she said.

The duty, which runs between 6.4 percent and 6.8 percent per flower depending on the variety, "affects every single stem of flowers that comes into the country," said Lin Watts, executive vice president of the Association of Floral Importers of Florida in Miami. "The duty is costing our importers in Miami" up to $2.6-million a month, she said.

In Washington, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., considers renewing the duty-free status of flowers his top trade priority because of the "obvious benefits to Florida," press secretary Jill Greenberg said Thursday.

He proposed a bill to extend the act through February 2006. It passed the Senate Finance Committee in November. The same month, the House passed a version of the bill that would expand the duty-free treatment to all Andean tuna. Graham's bill could go to the full Senate by next month, Greenberg said.

Most of the flowers sold in the United States are imported, and most come through South Florida, although it's difficult to get an accurate count.

The Society of American Florists estimates that 70 percent of all flowers sold in the United States are imported. The Association of Floral Importers of Florida estimates that 66 percent of the flowers consumed in the United States are imported through Miami.

Despite the rising prices, the floral industry is expecting strong sales for next week's holiday. Last year, there were an estimated 103-million roses sold for Valentine's Day, said Jennifer Sparks, vice president of marketing for the Society of American Florists.

She predicted many florists will swallow the price increases rather than passing them along. "We're hearing the consumers really shouldn't see an increase," Sparks said.

Moates Florist, in Tampa, is charging $59.95 for a dozen long-stem red roses. It's the same as last year, although co-owner Jo Kimball said they've paid more for them this year. "We're paying more but we're just absorbing it," she said.

At Homosassa Springs Florist in Citrus County, the price also will remain at $65 for the roses in a vase and $60 for a box.

Online at Amazon.com, Proflowers.com is advertising a dozen of long-stem red roses for $49.99 (without a vase) plus $8 shipping. The San Diego company gets its flowers directly from growers.

Those who buy from Liberty Florist in Largo will get about a $6 break, considering what co-owner Cindy McGarry said she would have had to charge to cover the new duty. She hadn't known about it until Thursday morning when her roses came in from South America.

"I was quite shocked. In a way, I wish the wholesaler had told me," McGarry said. "I was not able to take that into consideration when I put my prices together" two weeks ago. So, long-stem roses at Liberty will remain at $65.

-- Information from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel was used in this report. J. Nealy-Brown can be reached at nealy@sptimes.com or at (727) 893-8846.

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