Apple grower Jeff Colombini, appearing at a Farmers for Free Trade event, spoke on the importance of NAFTA to the apple industry. ( Photo courtesy U.S. Apple Association )

As NAFTA renegotiations near an end, Farmers for Free Trade continues its message that the tri-lateral free trade agreement is important for agriculture and farmers.

U.S. Apple Association Secretary Jeff Colombini joined other agriculture leaders April 26 at a Farmers for Free Trade forum in Acampo, Calif.

“NAFTA is critical to the economic health of both the California and U.S. apple industries,” Colombini, president of Lodi Farming Inc. in the northern San Joaquin Valley, said during the event, according to a news release. “Under the agreement, the apple industry has quadrupled its exports to Mexico and doubled its exports to Canada with combined purchases of nearly $450 million per year.”

Trade officials were in Washington, D.C., the week of April 22, to discuss NAFTA, and although there are issues still pending, comments to the media from Mexican and Canadian officials were optimistic about progress on the initiative.

Under NAFTA, a 20% tariff on U.S. apples to Mexico disappeared, and Mexico is the country’s largest export market.

In response to tariffs on steel and aluminum, China is imposing a 15% tariff on U.S. apples.

“This is a tremendous concern as China has significant growth potential because it doesn’t grow the many apple varieties we grow and Chinese consumers are excited to experience those unique taste profiles,” Colombini told reporters, according to the release. “The retaliatory tariffs imposed by China will hurt apple growers’ ability to maintain and expand this emerging market.”

Other speakers at the event included California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson and Farmers for Free Trade Executive Director Brian Kuehl.