YAKIMA, Wash. — The U.S. hop and apple industries could benefit from Brexit, the United Kingdom’s effort to leave the European Union, a UK consul says.
Hops are Washington’s No. 1 agricultural export to Britain at about $46 million a year. A new bilateral trade agreement between the U.S. and UK could eliminate EU tariffs of 3.2-5.8% that UK hops importers now must pay, says Robin Twyman, UK consul for business and governmental affairs in Seattle.
With Brexit anticipated to happen on or before Oct. 31, Twyman is trying to raise awareness among Washington industries of the British and U.S. intention to negotiate a new bilateral free trade agreement.
A senior trade policy adviser at the British Consulate General in Los Angeles handles California, Oregon and Idaho.
“The special relationship that binds the UK and the U.S. is about shared security, values and prosperity. The UK and U.S. already enjoy bilateral trade worth $262 billion a year,” Twyman told the Capital Press.
The two countries also are each other’s single largest investors, with British companies employing over 1 million people in the U.S. and vice versa, he said.
“It’s not widely known, but the UK is the single largest foreign employer in Washington state. There are 191 UK-headquartered companies employing 19,000 people here,” he said.
One of them is UK hop merchant Charles Faram in Yakima, he said.
Twyman, 50, worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for more than two decades in European and African posts, including Switzerland and Zimbabwe.
In 2009, he became first secretary for trade policy at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. He opened a UK Government Office in Seattle in 2013.
The UK is the fifth largest export destination for both the U.S. and Washington state with Washington exporting about $5 billion in goods and services annually to the UK, Twyman said. Of that, agriculture is a small amount with the leaders being hops at $46 million, apples at $6 million and cherries at $4 million, he said.
Washington apple exports to the UK were fairly strong at about 1 million, 40-pound boxes annually in the 1990s and early 2000s, said Kate Tynan, senior vice president of Northwest Horticultural Council in Yakima.
That has declined to about 100,000 boxes in recent years primarily due to the EU’s sanitary and phytosanitary barriers, she said.
Tariffs and transportation costs have also been factors. France and Italy are big apple producers and much closer to the UK.
Season-to-date as of May 15, a little over 79,000 boxes of Washington apples had been shipped to the EU, with 66,000 going to the UK, Tynan said.
NHC President Mark Powers and Fred Scarlett, vice president of export programs, met with Twyman in April. The meeting was positive, and Twyman’s outreach was appreciated, Tynan said.
“NHC has shared priorities with the Office of United States Trade Representative regarding a post-Brexit trade agreement. The NHC is seeking an immediate removal of the tariffs that would be levied on apples, pears and cherries,” she said.
Tariffs on apples likely could be reduced or eliminated, Twyman said.
He met May 15 with Hop Growers of America in Yakima and toured hop fields and facilities.
“We were very excited to have him come and of course the potential for lower tariffs only means good things,” said Jaki Brophy, Hop Growers of America spokeswoman.
In recent years, the UK has been the No. 1 export market for U.S. hops, followed by Brazil, Belgium and Luxembourg, China and Germany, she said.
Twyman said he was impressed by all the varieties of hops grown, the size of the industry and the number of international markets the industry has developed.
“I toured one farm that was half as big as the UK’s entire hop production,” he said.
People in the UK and U.S. are interested in post-Brexit trade, Twyman said. The British government received 600,000 comments from its citizens in a recent inquiry regarding post-Brexit trade with the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he said.
The UK and U.S. both established trade working groups in July 2017 that have met five times to prioritize issues in a new trade agreement, he said.
“We want to hit the ground running once we leave the EU,” he said. “The U.S. and UK have relatively low tariffs but there are also technical barriers to trade. The U.S. has more than the UK. We would like to remove them reciprocally.”