The president thinks our $500 billion trade deficit is bad (it's not), and he thinks China is stealing our intellectual property (they are but it's not that bad), and so he's launched a full-on trade war against China. As many outlets reported, Friday at midnight he imposed significant tariffs on a range of goods, which spurred China to retaliate by imposing their own tariffs on $34 billion worth of U.S. products, including our very own, beloved, world-renowned, Pacific Northwest cherries.
In addition to a 10 percent tariff they had already imposed on cherries and a 15 percent tariff they imposed after Trump's first punch, China slapped an additional 25 percent tariff on the beloved stone fruit this morning, bringing the total to 50 percent. "This is a problem," said Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council.
Last year, China was the largest international market for cherries, taking 32 percent of U.S. exports and 11 percent of the crop. A 50 percent tariff will likely impact the demand for cherries in China and therefore the amount of money PNW growers make on their harvest. "Likely both Chinese consumers and Washington growers will pay for [the tariff]," Powers said. "Our concern is that it will mostly be on the Washington grower."
The reasons for that are complicated, but also a little fun to know. China is willing to pay a premium for cherries, and they're specifically willing to pay a premium for PNW cherries because they are so sweet and red and good, or so says the PNW horticultural lobbyist. This is all to say that Chinese consumers might not mind paying a little more for what's already considered a luxury fruit.
Cherry growers in central Washington, however, have more to lose. The cherry is an unpredictable and high-risk crop. A rainstorm can come and ruin entire fields. "You count on the good years to tide you over on the bad years," Powers said. "This would have been a really good year, but now it’s like lost opportunity. It’s not going to be as good as it could have been or should have been. What we’re trying to figure out is how bad it’s going to be, and we won’t know until later in the season when growers start to get their returns."
Keith Hu, director of international operations for the Northwest Cherry Growers Association, says it's too early to tell how much of an effect these tariffs will have. "Consumers will take some of the hit, retail will take some, and maybe even shippers. The only wildcard is inspection," he said, mentioning that China delayed goods from California from entering their markets by taking some extra time to inspect the shipments. Hu said we'll know by late next week how much these tariffs will affect overall cherry sales. The hope is other markets—Japan, Korea, and domestic—could absorb some of the shock.
Washington growers saw these tariffs coming, but the escalating trade war has introduced a lot of uncertainty in a business that doesn't need any more uncertainty, and it may even have ramifications in a contentious Congressional race in Washington's 8th District, which is home to a number of the state's cherry, apple, and pear growers.
"It'll be a huge issue in this election," says Kim Schrier's spokeswoman, Katie Rodihan.
"We've talked to orchardists in eastern Washington who said they've always voted Republican, but this year they're concerned they won't be able to make a profit if they get pushed much farther. Today's tariffs show we've hit that point, and we think there's an opportunity to flip these traditionally Republican voters."
"It's also worth noting," Rodihan continued, "That Dino Rossi helped elect this president, which paved the way for these policies. Trump said he was going to launch a trade war and Dino Rossi supported him. This is no surprise."
When Trump initiated the trade war by taxing steel and aluminum back in April, Rossi offered a mealymouthed quote to The Seattle Times:
'I don’t think anybody wins a trade war,' Rossi said. 'Eighty percent of our steel is made domestically. We also import from friends like Australia and others. I am not really convinced that somehow it is national security if 8o percent of your steel already comes from America.'
'And so I am hoping it is more posturing … that’s how he negotiates. He wants 100 and he asks for 200 and then he gets 110 and complains,' Rossi said, adding that he does agree with the notion that international trade agreements like NAFTA need to be revised periodically to ensure they are fair.
Trump is decidedly not posturing about this idiotic trade war. And judging by his silence, Rossi doesn't seem too concerned about the impact of these tariffs on the people he hopes to represent.