Tariffs on imports into India are destroying business for apple growers in the Northwest

But since Trump-era steel and aluminum tariffs took effect, retaliatory tariffs have caused a meltdown in that valuable fruit market. Now, the full Washington state congressional delegation is asking for help from the federal government.

Customers in India love Red Delicious apples. But many Red Delicious growers in the Northwest run legacy orchards — smaller family farms with less opportunity to plant any new trees or varieties.

Red Delicious apples have become less popular in the US, and newer varieties like Opal, Juicy and the fresh Cosmic Crisp are putting Red Delicious growers at a disadvantage.

But for decades, Red Delicious growers found a good home abroad – India. In 2017, apple exports from Washington reached a record 120 million dollars. But the steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on India in 2018. according to Article 232 of the Law on Trade Expansion – forced the Indian government to put an additional 20 percent tax on imports of American apples. This reduced North West apple exports to India to just $3 million.

Now, the full Washington state congressional delegation is asking for help from the federal government.

A dozen politicians signed a letter seeking assistance from the US Trade Representative and Secretary of Commerce to remove India’s tariffs on Washington State apples. The letter comes as the important Trade Policy Forum with India takes place this week.

Mark Powers is the president North West Horticultural Council in Yakima.

“What was almost exclusively our market in India that we developed now belongs to other nations that export to India,” Powers said.

Powers says about 20% of Washington apples are now exported worldwide, up from closer to 30%.

A short year

This year is a short apple year with only about 102 million 40-pound boxes harvested, says Todd Fryhover, president Washington Apple Commission.

So India’s problem is a bit sidetracked because overall there is less fruit to export. However, many growers in the Northwest last spring faced hail, extreme summer heat, transportation problems at ports, increased inland transportation costs, tariffs in exporting countries and even potential phytosanitary restrictions in Japan. All of this creates a problem for apple growers with less capital to adapt to rapidly changing operating situations, science, varieties and a rapidly consolidating agribusiness climate, Fryhover said. Besides, he said, there is a lot of competition in India from foreign competitors like China, Italy and Turkey.

By death or by the developer

Congresswoman Kim SchrierDemocrat from Washington’s 8th District, says family farmers of Red Delicious apples in places like Chelan and Wenatchee are struggling to cope with both bad weather and a closed export market.

This is the smallest Red Delicious crop since 1968, the congressional delegation wrote in a press release. Out-of-state corporate entities take over and consolidate larger operations, while smaller farms simply shut down.

“Now they’re faced with pulling out the entire crop and planting it like Honey Crisp, or selling it to a development company,” says Schrier. “If it weren’t for these tariffs, we could save these family farms.”

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