Cherries soon will be coming in once more, if not in the next few weeks then certainly by early July. Valley growers have enough worries — the usual workforce issues and quality-of-crop anxieties — without having to deal with the tit-for-tat trade war with China featuring that weapon of mass economic depression: tariffs.
Yet, that is the situation farmers here, and nationwide, must face for a second consecutive season. We guardedly supported the subsidies — and farmers grudgingly accepted — the Trump administration belatedly extended to cherry growers in the wake of last July’s first sortie of 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods, followed by retaliatory Chinese tariffs on American agricultural products, including cherries and apples, followed by a second U.S. duty, 10 percent on $200 billion in Chinese products, in response.
Call it the new Cold War — this time taking place on the home front in large, refrigerated warehouses where perishable fruit sits in limbo while growers feel the chill of lost income.
Now, President Donald Trump and China’s president, Xi Jinping, have begun a second tariff offensive, Trump striking first last week by raising tariffs from 10 to 25 percent on that $200 billion in Chinese goods. China, as expected, responded in kind, lobbing another direct hit on farm goods.
When will this escalating tussle end? Does the Trump administration even have an endgame in mind? What is the strategy that will bring China to its knees and agree to economic reforms to get it in line with international norms in areas such as respecting intellectual property rights?
Great questions, all.
So far no one, including those toiling in the White House, seems to have any answers. And that’s worrying on many levels.
What immediately rankles is Trump’s disingenuous declaration that the dueling tariffs are just a blip on the U.S.’s robust economy, that Americans won’t feel a thing. He has displayed calloused disregard for businesses hurting in the trade war by diminishing it as “a little squabble.”
This, despite Wall Street having a monumental knee-jerk freakout last week to Trump’s latest decision and response to China’s retaliatory tariffs.
This, despite farmers virtually being assured of a deep dip in prices for their yield and despite their all-too-real fears that their biggest customer, China, just might cultivate new partners for apples and cherries and freeze out the U.S.
This, despite everyone knowing that the tariffs’ reduction in imports for Chinese goods here actually translates to cost rises by American importers, who then jack up the costs the retail level.
This time around, it seems, we will all feel the trade war’s pain — not just growers. It will affect the cost of athletic shoes and electronic entertainment equipment made in China, staples of our consumerist culture.
Yet, the president still is in willful denial about the deleterious effects of tariffs here at home. He told reporters on Tuesday he’s looking “very strongly” at more levies (rumored to be tariffs on $325 billion in Chinese goods).
The situation may grow more dire, too, as Mexico’s economic minister said Tuesday his country is preparing retaliatory tariffs on the U.S.; the European Union, too, is mulling action if Trump follows through on his threat to impose levies on car imports.
We sincerely hope the president is the master negotiator he long has purported to be and that the overheated trade wars will blow over rather than blow up.
While we agree that China has stolen U.S. intellectual property for its own gain and flouted tenets of economic fair play in ascending to superpower status this past decade, torpedoing the U.S. economy to punish a rival is not a sustainable strategy.
In the short term, the administration would be wise to offer up another round of subsidies to farmers, who must be quickly losing patience with the president’s doubling and tripling down on his get-tough trade policy. Although cherry and apple growers haven’t been targeted in this expanded round of tariffs, the ones already in place (a 50-percent increase) will continue to hurt them.
As the Capital Press reported, a $60 wholesale 20-pound box of cherries expands to $70 with freight and, with the 50 percent tariff, would sell in China for $105 a box — too steep for many importers.
So, until the tariffs are lifted, growers here need help. After all, the cherries are coming in regardless, and growers’ livelihoods are at stake.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Bob Crider and Sam McManis.