Red Delicious apples

Rosa Vega fills trays of Red Delicious apples at Custom Starr Ranch Growers, Wenatchee, Wash. India buys a lot of Washington Red Delicious and apparently wants to improve its U.S. trade.

WENATCHEE, Wash. — India apparently wants to improve trade relations with the U.S., which the president of the Washington Apple Commission calls “a bright spot” in an otherwise discouraging trade scene.

Mexico, India and China make up 50% of Washington’s apple exports. They are down 29% largely because of tariffs and the threat of tariffs in response to U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum.

India has had a 50% tariff on U.S. apples for years but it’s been threatening an additional 25% since June in response to U.S. tariffs. It was going to happen in August but was delayed until fall. Now it’s being postponed again.

A March 28 article in BusinessLine, an India news source, says India will postpone the tariff hike and will ask the U.S. to hold off yanking India from the Generalized System of Preferences program in May so that India can address American market access concerns.

On March 4, President Donald Trump announced his decision to remove India from the GSP, which has allowed it to export more than 3,000 items to the U.S. duty-free. The administration cited Indian trade barriers.

Todd Fryhover, Washington Apple Commission president, handed out copies of the BusinessLine story at the commission’s March 28 meeting in Wenatchee. It appears India doesn’t want to retaliate and instead find a solution, but there are a lot of unknowns as India is in the midst of elections, he said.

Fryhover called the story “a bright spot” after being “left with little optimism for short-term solutions on trade” after participating in U.S. Apple Association Capitol Hill Day lobbying on March 13.

“It’s hard to get a true direction. Messaging is jumbled. The White House, (U.S. Trade Representative Robert) Lighthizer and (Commerce Secretary Wilbur) Ross all say something different,” he said.

India has appeared to be a more serious problem than China or Mexico, he said.

U.S.-China negotiations continue and Congress seems insistent that steel and aluminum tariffs be lifted prior to voting on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. The administration sees the tariffs as the hammer it needs to make sure Mexico and Canada ratify USMCA, Fryhover said.

Ratification of USMCA is the Apple Commission’s No. 1 priority, he said. Mexico is Washington’s top apple export market.

He said he doesn’t see any relief to Mexico’s 20% tariff through the rest of this year and prays Canada doesn’t join.

China’s tariff is 50% and while Chinese, Mexican and Indian tariffs damaged Washington apple exports this season, industry officials fear worse damage next season if there’s a bigger crop.

Apple Commission board members James Foreman, manager of Foreman Fruit in Wenatchee, and David Douglas, president of Douglas Fruit in Pasco, also attended the Capitol Hill Day.

Noting apples are a small piece of the pie, Foreman said the only hope is that agriculture together sustains enough damage that it gains clout as a negotiable item. It’s not good for the administration if it loses support of Midwest soybean producers, he said.

“I’m hopeful we don’t see more tariffs. It’s hard to see when they will be reduced,” said Douglas, who called the trip “disheartening.”

Labor was not discussed much because no one can see beyond the U.S.-Mexican border wall issue, he said.

H-2A guestworker reform is a conversation but “immigration is dead,” Fryhover said.

Commissioners agreed that lobbying in small groups is more effective because they get canned responses in large groups.

Central Washington field reporter

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