Moses Lake, WA 98837, USA

Tariffs still agitating fruit market

Staff writer

QUINCY — It’s impossible to tell what the impact of a trade war will be on the Washington apple and cherry industry in the future, but the impact of tariffs on 2018-19 sales is pretty clear.

Losses to the apple market are estimated at about $129 million, said Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, and up to $86 million for cherries. Washington’s fruit industry is among the economic sectors that face uncertain times due to trade actions by the Trump Administration.

Tariffs have affected 2018 shipments to some of the industry’s biggest export markets, including China, India and Mexico, Powers said. India and Mexico are major markets for U.S. apples, while China is a major importer of Washington cherries.

India already imposes a 50 percent tariff on apples, which the country’s trade officials have announced will increase by 25 percent on Nov. 2. India is a major market for Red Delicious apples.

Mexico placed 20 percent retaliatory tariff on U.S. apples in June, retaliation for duties placed on Mexican steel and aluminum imports. The Trump Administration recently reached agreement with Mexico and Canada on a new trade agreement, but the retaliatory tariffs were not part of that agreement, Powers said.

The situation is mitigated by the fact the 2018 apple crop is coming in smaller than expected – about 11 percent smaller. The current estimate, released in mid-October, is for about 116.9 million boxes, down from the earlier estimate of 131 million boxes.

For people who don’t raise (or sell) apples, sales are measured in the equivalent of a 40-pound box of fresh apples.

Growers produce a plethora of apple variety for consumers, some that have been grown in Washington for a century or more; Red Delicious and Golden Delicious date back to the days when apples were shipped in wooden barrels. But researchers keep coming up with new varieties, some of which catch the attention of consumers. Honeycrisp hit the market in 1991 and has become one of the most popular apples for eating. In addition, some varieties have been developed by a specific company, and are only grown and sold by that company.

All of that has contributed to a market that’s always agitated, and the trade wars have added to that agitation. “Ideally we would have more certainty,” Powers said. And a market that’s closed temporarily may be affected forever, even after the trade war ends. “The longer the tariffs are on, the more damage it does.”

Growers will deal with whatever the market hands them, he said. “Our guys are good at what they do, and if anybody can make it work, they will."