Pascual Fernando Pablo dumps freshly-picked Chelan cherries into a bin at a Lyall Farms orchard in Mattawa, Wash. on Monday, May 23, 2016. President Trump is proposing to put tariffs on Chinese imports which worries representatives of the fruit industry that Washington's fruit exports could be targeted for retaliatory tariffs. (SHAWN GUST/Yakima Herald-Republic file)

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Yakima fruit growers are watching to see if Washington apples and cherries will become pawns in a trade war between the United States and China.

With President Donald Trump threatening to impose tariffs on imports from China, local growers worry Washington fruit could face retaliatory taxation.

“The question is, how does China react?” said Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council. “For us, China is an important export market.”

About 13 percent of the state’s cherry crop went to China last year, while Hong Kong and China represent the state’s fifth largest export market for apples.

Trump plans to impose $60 billion in annual tariffs against Chinese products in response to allegations of intellectual property theft, as well as an effort to create more American jobs. The tariff would target more than 100 products the administration alleges were made using trade secrets either stolen from U.S. manufacturers or which companies were forced to disclose as a condition of doing business in China.

Economic experts warn that China could retaliate with its own tariffs on American products. China is Washington’s largest export market, with 23.7 percent of the state’s products headed overseas, including aircraft and produce.

China was the state’s top overseas cherry market, Powers said, and follows, in descending order, Mexico, Canada, the Middle East and India as the top apple importers.

Washington growers sent 3 million boxes of cherries to China in 2017, and 5.7 million apple boxes to markets in mainland China and Hong Kong in 2016, the most recent year of complete data available from the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.

China imports all varieties of apples, but mainland China imposes duties and requires the fruit be grown to exacting standards. Hong Kong, a former British colony that is a semi-autonomous part of China, does not impose duties on American fruit imports, Washington Apple Commission President Todd Fryhover said.

Chinese authorities could impose retaliatory tariffs on similar products to what America is taxing, there’s also the possibility that produce could be targeted as they would have a greater effect on the American economy, Fryhover said.

It has happened before.

When the United States restricted Mexican trucks from entering the United States in 2010, Mexico imposed a 20 percent tariff on Washington apples, Fryhover recalled.

“We often see ourselves in the apple industry as being collateral damage,” Fryhover said.