Washington fruit growers evade latest trade dispute

Washington fruit growers evade latest trade dispute
The latest scuffles in the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China have avoided hitting Washington’s fruit growers. Photo: freepik.com

The latest escalation in an ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China has so far avoided hitting Washington fruit growers – while the apple harvest is expected to be significantly larger than last year. At the same time, state-based agricultural advocates say that could change later this year when the harvest is completed and produce exported. Meanwhile, there’s still no sign whether a resolution to the dispute is on the short-term horizon.

“Only time will tell whether they are moving toward an imminent solution or if we are in this for the long haul,” Northwest Horticultural Council (NHC) Senior Vice President Kate Tynan wrote in an email.

Last week, China announced that it plans to end agricultural imports from the U.S. – the Asian country is one of the top export destinations for Washington crops. However, Tynan wrote that the policy only applies to certain state-owned entities; Washington’s tree fruit is purchased by private sector entities.

However, she added that “cherry season is winding down, and while apple and pear harvests have begun, we traditionally do not start shipping the new crop to China until later this fall. Therefore, we won’t get a full picture of how these private importers will react to China’s most recent action for some time.”

According to the Washington Tree Fruit Association, this year’s apple harvest is expected to be 18 percent larger than in 2018.

“All markets are important to move different varieties to the customers that enjoy them,” WTFA Communications Director Tim Kovis said.

In May, the Trump Administration unveiled a new 10-percent tariff on $300 billion worth of imported Chinese products to take effect Sept. 1. However, this week the federal government announced that it plans to remove some products from the list “based on health, safety, national security and other factors,” while delaying the tariff on the remaining items until Dec. 15. Tynan wrote that the decision did not directly impact the tree fruit industry.

Those “other factors” were likely the higher prices to consumers, which the Washington Council on International Trade (WCIT)) warned in an Aug. 5 press release would hit them “as they gear up for back-to-school and holiday shopping. Washington state consumers and businesses could suffer significant harm if the new tariffs take effect and the on-going trade war with China escalates.”

Among the NHC’s trade priorities is “to maintain or revise work plans with China, Japan, and Mexico,” while WCIT’s statement advocated “leveling the playing field for U.S. companies doing business in China by seeking structural reforms in the Chinese economy, particularly around market access and intellectual property protections. But tariffs are a blunt instrument that hurt the economy. China is Washington state’s largest trading partner, so tariffs place a heavy burden on our businesses, farmers, workers, and consumers.”

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