Container ships at the Port of Oakland

California agriculture concerned over possible trade war with China

California commodity groups raise concerns over possible Chinese tariffs

News broke late Friday afternoon (Murphy’s law for reporters trying to gather comments from folks anxious to start their weekends as early as possible) that China may retaliate against the United States with tariffs of its own as the Trump administration seeks tariffs on goods coming from there.

As of late Friday, word was these negotiations were still quite “fluid,” according to agricultural leaders I spoke with by phone.

“Farmers never win in a trade war,” I heard from one speaker at a meeting I recently attended here in California.

Groups that represent almonds, citrus and pistachios are watching this with interest as each could be affected by 15 percent tariffs on exports to China.

Richard Matoian, executive director of the Fresno-based American Pistachio Growers (APG), said it was unclear late Friday if the proposed 15 percent tariff would be in addition to existing tariffs on raw and roasted pistachios, or if it would replace those tariffs. Matoian says that despite an existing 5 percent tariff on raw U.S. pistachios and 10 percent on roasted U.S. pistachios, sales to China have been good.

The U.S. exported over 69 million pounds of open, inshell pistachios to China in the 2016/17 marketing year, according to APG.

Joel Nelsen, president of California Citrus Mutual, said China is the state’s third-largest buyer of fresh citrus – primarily navel oranges and lemons – behind Canada and South Korea. A potential trade war that draws in American agriculture could negatively affect California citrus.

The move by China is said to be in retaliation of U.S. trade actions that seek to place tariffs on steel and aluminum. Both commodity groups emphasized that these actions by China are “proposed” at this point and could take place immediately, in a month, or not at all.

As uncertainties remain over the timing and rate of tariffs, Nelsen pointed out that fresh citrus is currently being shipped from California to China.

APG shared a list with Western Farm Press they received earlier in the day that listed more than 100 different U.S. food commodities China could assess tariffs on, including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, dates, figs, avocados, various citrus, grapes, watermelon, apples, peaches, plums, strawberries, cherries, prunes, apricots, and wine -- all produced in California.

Wine is also on the list.

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail and U.S. food products do not get pulled into a larger trade war between the United States and its trading partners.

TAGS: Crops Fruit
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