In this file photo taken Feb. 25, 2015, Ernesto Cuevas wraps plastic around a pallet of Fuji apples at Washington Fruit and Produce Co. in Yakima. (Gordon King/Yakima Herald-Republic via AP)

In this file photo taken Feb. 25, 2015, Ernesto Cuevas wraps plastic around a pallet of Fuji apples at Washington Fruit and Produce Co. in Yakima. (Gordon King/Yakima Herald-Republic via AP)

Washington state apple, cherry industries wary of trade war

By Nicholas K. Geranios

The Associated Press

SPOKANE — Cherry and apple growers in Washington state are worried their exports to China will be hurt by a growing trade war that escalated Monday when that country raised import duties on a $3 billion list of products.

China buys Washington-grown cherries, apples and pears, which are all included in the trade dispute.

“Our hope is that the U.S. and China will reach a solution before cherry season starts in June,” said Kate Woods, a vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima.

The council handles international trade issues for the agriculture industries in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Biggest producer

Washington is the biggest producer of apples and sweet cherries in the United States.

China is the top export market for Washington cherries, buying 2.9 million cases worth $127 million each year, Woods said.

“It’s going to be a lot more challenging for cherry growers to find alternative markets when talking about that much volume,” Woods said.

China also bought about $50 million worth of apples and $1.5 million worth of pears from Washington last year, Woods said.

Beijing is imposing a 25 percent tariff on U.S. pork and aluminum scrap and 15 percent on sparkling wine, steel pipe and an array of fruits and nuts including walnuts and grapes.

$20 billion total

American farm exports to China in 2017 totaled nearly $20 billion, including $1.1 billion of pork products.

The government of Chinese President Xi Jinping said it was responding to a U.S. tariff hike on steel and aluminum.

But it’s just one facet of sprawling tensions between China and Washington, Europe and Japan over the state-led economic model that other nations say hampers market access, protects Chinese companies and subsidizes exports in violation of Beijing’s free-trade commitments.

Companies are looking ahead to a bigger fight over President Donald Trump’s approval of higher duties on up to $50 billion of Chinese goods in response to complaints that Beijing steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology.

Economic forecasters say the impact of Monday’s move should be limited, but investors worry the global recovery might be set back if other governments respond by raising import barriers.

The tariffs “signal a most unwelcome development, which is that countries are becoming protectionist,” said economist Taimur Baig of DBS Group. But in commercial terms, the tariffs are “not very substantial” compared with China’s $150 billion in annual imports of U.S. goods, he added.

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