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A delegation representing the Northwest tree fruit industry will be meeting with Trump administration officials and members of Congress next week to discuss foreign trade sanctions negatively impacting the industry.

by Mark Powers, Executive Vice President of the Northwest Horticultural Council.

Mark Powers

The meeting, originally intended to focus strictly on exports to China, has been in the works for a couple of months, but India and Mexico have also imposed tariffs in recent days, broadening the talks to come, says Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council.

The industry doesn’t regularly do “flybacks” to Washington D.C. to speak as a united voice, instead relying on industry associations like the council to handle the work, but that changed with 50 percent of the tree fruit volume now facing retaliatory tariffs, Powers said.

“The cumulative effect is extremely troubling. We don’t know what might change in the next week, but what we do know is that we have to be very vocal and increasingly vocal,” he said. “The traditional trade focus has always been on the Heartland — feed grains and meat products and those kinds of products. Those are big dollars. Obviously those industries are much bigger than ours. That doesn’t mean ours is any less important, but we need to get back there and make some noise and try to work to some solutions and advocate on behalf of our growers.”

In addition to Powers, members of the delegation include Cass Gebbers of Gebbers Farms and Chelan Fresh in Brewster, Washington, and a board member of the Washington Apple Commission; Brian McDougall of McDougall and Sons and Columbia Marketing International in Wenatchee, Washington, and a Northwest Horticultural Council trustee; Steve Smith of Yakima Fresh in Yakima, Washington, and a Northwest Fruit Exporters board member and council trustee; Washington Apple Commission President Todd Fryhover; and Jim Bair, president of US Apple in Washington D.C.

President Donald Trump announced worldwide steel and aluminum tariffs in March in an effort to protect American producers, including imports from China. At the time, he granted exemptions to some major trading partners, but last week announced similar tariffs on Mexico, Canada and the European Union.

The targeted countries have since rolled out retaliatory tariffs of their own, each on a list of U.S. products.

For China, the list includes apples, cherries, pears and grapes. The country has imposed a 15 percent duty, on top of the existing 10 percent duty, bringing the total tariff to 25 percent.

China was the top export market for cherries last year for the first time.

Shipments initially slowed due to phytosanitary inspections this spring in the wake of the trade dispute, but those seem to have been resolved and cherry shipments are moving, Powers said.

In terms of apples, Fryhover said industry experts in China don’t believe the added tariff will stop shipments from the U.S. “The Chinese retailers are accustomed to seeing high-quality Washington apples. Demand is there,” he said. “What’s difficult is when the Southern Hemisphere shipments become available. That’s when our shipments tend to drop off.”

In recent years, China has represented the sixth- or seventh-best market for U.S. apples at about $50 million. However, all varieties are exported there, making it a significant and important market for the industry.

India knocked Canada to No. 3 among U.S. apple export markets last year, with over 7 million boxes valued at about $131 million. Ninety percent of that is Red Delicious apples, though an increasing number of Galas and Fujis are being shipped to India as well.

The country imposed an additional 30 percent duty, on top of the original 50 percent tariff. The total 80 percent tariff goes into effect sometime prior to June 21, Fryhover said, though it’s unclear if that date represents the ship date, arrival date or the date the product clears customs.

Meanwhile, Mexico, the apple industry’s top export market at between $200 million and $250 million, imposed a 20 percent tariff. Mexico has taken upwards of 10 million boxes this season, and was forecast to take 13 to 14 million this upcoming season.

Washington is the largest producer of U.S. apples. From May 13 to May 31, the state shipped 3.4 million 40-pound box equivalents of apples to export. Some 1.2 million went to Mexico, while India took about 700,000; those two markets represented roughly 55 percent of the exports for that two-week period.

—by Shannon Dininny

This story has been corrected to reflect updated shipping numbers from the Washington State Tree Fruit Association. Rather than 1.1 million boxes, India took 700,000 during the two-week period from May 13 to May 31, which reduced the overall export percentage for Mexico and India to 55 percent, down from two-thirds.