Cass Gebbers, president and CEO of Gebbers Farms in Brewster, Wash. spoke to the House Ways and Means Committee subcommittee on trade July 18 about the impacts of retaliatory tariffs on tree fruit. ( House Ways and Means Committee )

If retaliatory tariffs continue on U.S. apples, cherries, and other commodities, tree fruit grower Cass Gebbers told Congress to leave all options on the table to give relief to growers.

Gebbers, president and CEO of Gebbers Farms in Brewster, Wash. spoke to the House Ways and Means Committee subcommittee on trade July 18.

Gebbers said growers face immediate and future hardships if the retaliatory tariffs aren’t lifted. The retaliatory tariffs on U.S. fruit, put in place by Mexico, China, India and other countries, were prompted by Trump administration tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum from multiple countries this year.

“Unless these retaliatory tariffs are removed immediately, I and my fellow sweet cherry growers will have faced a 25% or 50% tariff in our top export market for the entire 2018 cherry marketing season, which began in June and will end in August,” he said. 

For apples, exporters will face an additional 20%, 25%, or 40% tariff in the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 5 export markets going into the 2018 harvest.

“If removal of these tariffs does not happen in the short term, then I would encourage the U.S. government to leave on the table any and all mitigation options to assist the growers, packers, and shippers — as well as the people whose jobs they support — that are being impacted by these retaliatory tariffs,” Gebbers said. 

That may mean more traditional routes such as USDA Section 32 bonus purchases, but also must include other options because the benefits of bonus purchases are limited for high value, perishable products.

In questions from lawmakers after he testified, Gebbers said his company grows about 4.5 million boxes of cherries and typically exports about 1.5 million boxes to China, or about 50% of all Washington cherries exported to China. 

This year, he said the tariffs will cause the company’s cherry exports to drop by nearly a million cases, to about 500,000 or 600,000 boxes.

“Those boats (to China) have been rerouted to Vietnam or Taiwan or they’ve been stuffed back into the U.S. market, which is creating extra supply and forcing down prices — all of this at the expense of our growers,” he said. 

That has caused Gebbers to cancel some capital expenditure projects and try to cut labor expenses.

Jim Bair, president of the U.S. Apple Association, said more members of Congress are expressing strong concern about the trade disputes but they are limited in what they can do.

“While many of us are angry and frustrated, not much can be done about and that makes it even more frustrating,” he said.

The Trump administration needs to quickly negotiate an end to the tariffs on apples and other commodities, he said July 19.