Northwest cherry exporters hope trade negotiators quickly produce a key that will open up the Chinese market to their goods.
They think it could happen.
“We are optimistic about having good access to China, as well, and hope the tariffs will not be a factor this season,” said Tim Evans, general sales manager with Chelan, Wash.-based Chelan Fresh Marketing.
If China remains shut off, however, there are other options, Evans said.
“We export a lot of fruit to Asia in general,” he said.
“We continue to build on and leverage other markets as much as possible in Southeast Asia and Europe.”
Last year, China slapped tariffs on U.S. goods — including taxes of up to 50% on Washington cherries.
Trump administration officials were negotiating with Chinese trade representatives the week of May 6.
President Trump threatened to levy additional tariffs on Chinese goods in response to China retreating from earlier commitments in the trade talk, according to media reports.
Even without an agreement with China, Washington cherry exporters look for gains on last year, when the state’s cherry volume reached an estimated 22.6 million pounds on 52,650 acres, according to numbers from the Northwest Horticultural Council.
“Other than the China tariffs hurting the export numbers into mainland China, we continue to see increased demand overseas every year,” said Scott Marboe, director of marketing with Wenatchee, Wash.-based Oneonta Trading Corp.
“Demand is not limited to export growth, either, as the domestic marketplace continues to see growth for us every year.”
But the extra fees on exports do hurt, said Andy Tudor, vice president of business development with Selah, Wash.-based Rainier Fruit Co.
“Export will continue to be challenged in countries with elevated tariffs,” he said.
“All that said, if we do our jobs and again deliver an excellent eating experience to all consumers, they will again respond with repeat purchases.”
Yakima, Wash.-based Sage Fruit Co. felt the pain from Chinese tariffs last year, said Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing.
“Last season, we did see an decrease in export shipments due to the restrictions put in place, so we are in the same situation as California growers going into the 2019 crop — we are hopeful the restrictions will ease a bit and get fixed so it does not affect the crop,” Sinks said.
Asia — including China, Taiwan and South Korea — is Sage Fruit’s biggest export market, Sinks said.
There is some hope in new markets, Sinks said.
“We’ve actually seen our shipments to Mexico increase over the past two years,” he said.
“We’re working on a building a program in that part of the world with our customers.”
Asia is a major export target for Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers LLC, said Brianna Shales, communications manager.
“Export markets are as hungry as ever for cherries, and Stemilt will continue to be a presence in Asian markets,” she said.
“Demand is strong in China, and we do expect the market to remain open for cherries this season, albeit with import duties that could have an effect, but more on pricing than anything. Time will tell.”
Editor Tom Karst contributed to this article.