U.S.-China trade

Red Delicious apples, like these being packed at Olympic Fruit in Moxee, Wash., have been the main U.S. variety going into China for the past two decades. The prospect of more apples going to China was raised with the latest trade talks.

WENATCHEE, Wash. — China apparently is preparing to buy more Washington apples.

“Our China rep says custom authorities and importers are working together to try to increase imports,” Todd Fryhover, head of the Washington Apple Commission, told Capital Press.

China has a 60% tariff on U.S. tree fruit in its trade war with the U.S. and a ban on governmental buying of U.S. agricultural products. But in the last two weeks, President Donald Trump has been saying China will lift its ban and buy $40 billion to $50 billion worth of U.S. agricultural products if the U.S. forgoes planned tariff hikes.

Over the weekend, Chinese officials confirmed Trump and China President Xi Jinping are expected to sign a phase-one deal at an economic meeting in Chile on Nov. 16-17, Bloomberg reported.

China has resumed soybean purchases and is buying a lot of pork as it has lost pigs to disease, Bloomberg reported.

“In general there’s optimism China may respond to increasing ag imports. Nothing concrete has changed but we are hopeful with the signaling from our rep in China and Trump that things are more positive than not. So we’re happy about that,” Fryhover said.

Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima, said hopes are high for an announcement in Chile. He said there’s speculation the tariffs will be reduced but that it’s hard to put much stock in that.

“It’s a very dynamic situation. Hopefully, we will have good news and be able to ship more product to our customers in China,” Powers said.

Red and Golden Delicious apples from Washington, Oregon and Idaho were allowed into China in 1993. Shipments to China and Hong Kong peaked at 3 million, 40-pound boxes, worth about $55 million, in the 2010-2011 sales season.

China banned U.S. apples from Aug. 9, 2012, to Oct. 31, 2014, citing post-harvest disease in shipments. Washington industry officials believed the real reason was to pressure the U.S. into accepting Chinese Fuji apples.

The industry realized a 20-year goal in January 2015 when China agreed to accept all U.S. apples and the U.S. agreed to accept Chinese apples. The Washington industry was hopeful of a 10 million-box, $250 million market within several years.

Exports reached 1.7 million boxes in 2017. Sales dropped to 900,000 boxes in the 2018-19 season because of a 50% China tariff in the U.S.-China trade war.

Fryhover said he was “amazed” exports held up that well.

“It’s a testament to our quality and aspiring consumers in China. I don’t think that will change. I think we should anticipate a similar season to last year,” he said, adding Washington has a larger crop and greater need to export.

Fruit quality, color and size distribution and new varieties will all be attractive, he said.

Meanwhile, exports to India hit 8 million boxes in 2017-18 because India banned Chinese apples and because Indian importers were anticipating an increase in India’s tariff on U.S. apples from 50% to 70%. That happened in June. Shipments this season totaled 2.6 million boxes. Fryhover expects 2 million to 2.5 million this season as Europe, still with just a 50% tariff, moves in.

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