Washington’s total apple exports are down 28 percent due to a smaller-than-normal crop and a months-long trade war in the international market.
The 2018-19 fresh apple crop was estimated at 117.8 million fresh boxes on Dec. 1 by the Washington State Tree Fruit Association. That’s down 12 percent from the previous year, which was pegged at 133.7 million.
The lower yield meant less fruit was available to go overseas, said Toni Lynn Adams, communications outreach coordinator for the Washington Apple Commission.
“Our crop was a bit shorter than expected,” she said. “So we put more into the domestic market, not as much in the export market.”
The fruit that did go international was met with retaliatory tariffs from Mexico and China in response to an escalating trade war being waged by President Donald Trump.
Mexico, Washington’s No. 1 export market, currently has a 20 percent tariff on apples; normally it’s zero. Exports there are down 25 percent, Adams said.
“We are seeing a decrease in shipments there, which is hurtful because it is our No. 1 market and we’d like to see that recovered,” she said.
China has bumped its normal 10 percent tariff to 20 percent, dropping exports there by 33 percent.
India has also threatened to implement a 25 percent apple tariff since August, said Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council. After a series of delays, India now plans to implement the increase on Dec. 17.
“Even though they haven’t implemented it, the threat has been enough to reduce sales to that country,” he said. Exports there are down 83 percent this year.
Together Mexico, China and India make up roughly half of Washington’s annual exports.
The apple tariffs are expected to result in around $129 million of losses this year, Powers said. They also hit cherries to the tune of $96 million and $2 million for pears.
But those numbers would be worse if the state’s crop was bigger this season, Powers said.
“So if there’s a silver lining, so to speak, it’s in that,” he said. “Our production is down about 10 percent from last year, which means we don’t have to move as much in the export market, perhaps.”
But while the overall losses might be less, less fruit in the market means an individual grower’s returns will likely be down.
“We may still move the volume but the return to the grower is going to suffer,” he said. “If they’re not importing apples from Washington state they’ll switch to the European Union. Once a buyer switches suppliers, it makes it harder to get back in that market the following year.”
That shift could have lasting effects on the industry, Powers said.
“It’s never simple, there’s always consequences to a big crop or a small crop, trade war or no trade war,” he said. “It’s constantly changing but … this is not a situation we want to be in as an industry.”