Pacific Northwest tree fruit industry likes USMCA

Apple picking in East Wenatchee, Wash. The USMCA trade deal passed by the U.S. House will benefit the Pacific Northwest tree fruit industry, leaders say.

WENATCHEE, Wash. — U.S. House passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement is a big deal in the Washington state tree fruit world.

“Mexico and Canada represent our top two export markets, totaling nearly a half-billion dollars in annual sales. Growing apples is a risky business and locking in our largest markets adds certainty for the long haul,” said Jim Bair, president and CEO of the U.S. Apple Association.

“The agreement lets U.S. growers do what they do best,” Bair continued, “producing superior quality apples in a volume and range of varieties not available anywhere else.”

Bair said Canada, Mexico and the U.S. collectively make up “the most competitive and successful regional economic platform in the world,” and that under the previous trade treaty, the North American Free Trade Agreement, U.S. apple exports to Mexico quadrupled and those to Canada doubled.

The vast majority of U.S. apples exported to both countries are grown in Washington state.

The House passed USMCA, 385 to 41, on Dec. 19. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had refused to call a vote for more than a year as House Democrats sought changes to the agreement.

Passage in the Senate is considered likely in January.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., called USMCA “critical for the agricultural and manufacturing industries in Central Washington.”

The state is the most trade-reliant in the nation with 40% of its jobs tied to international trade, Newhouse said. Washington state exported $11.5 billion in products to Mexico and Canada in 2018 with $1.54 billion of that being agricultural, he said.

Mexico is Washington’s No. 1 export market for apples usually buying 10 million to 11 million, 40-pound boxes worth about $200 million. In 2014 Mexico bought nearly 16 million boxes.

Canada is No. 2, usually buying 5 million to 6 million boxes.

Mexico and Canada buy about 50% of Northwest apple exports, 72% of its pear exports and 36% of its cherry exports, said Mark Powers, president and CEO of the Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima.

“The good thing about Canada is it takes high value Granny Smith and Honeycrisp and proprietary varieties,” said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission in Wenatchee.

“Canada has been a good reliable partner for a long time and their retail system is similar to ours with Costcos and the like,” Fryhover said.

Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver are the Top 3 recipients of Washington apples in that order, he said.

Mexico ended a one-year, 20% tariff on U.S. apples in May in response to the Trump administration ending its tariffs on steel and aluminum from Mexico.

USMCA maintains duty-free access, improves phytosanitary rules and dispute resolutions.

Powers said it was important that the agreement does not include a seasonal and perishable trade provision initially sought by Florida growers to prevent Mexican vegetable dumping in Florida because it could have been used against Northwest tree fruit growers in Mexico.

“That was important but the biggest thing the treaty does is maintain duty-free access and trading certainty with our most important trading bloc and eliminates the threat of us withdrawing from NAFTA,” Powers said.

NAFTA remains in effect until USMCA is enacted, he said. Changes that House Democrats made to the agreement do not directly pertain to tree fruit.

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