Trade wars affect California grape shippers as much as anyone

At center stage in any discussion of the California grape trade must be the dissolution of NAFTA and its replacement, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

Ian LeMay of the California Fresh Fruit Association, based in Fresno: “We already had strong relationships with Canada and Mexico, and it looks like they will be maintained. With robust trading back and forth, we feel we’re walking away with a net positive.”

John Rast, president of Visalia-based Rast Produce Company, Inc., said: “I’m not sure how the new agreement will affect us. We have a big customer in Canada, and we’ll buy whatever is needed. Tariffs have been around a long time.”

Of course, tariffs aren’t the same as a full border shutdown, which was threatened in this spring. Luckily, this did not come to pass. So while table grape trade between the United States and Mexico seems pretty much business as usual, many shippers and exporters are frustrated by high tariffs on grapes and other fruits imposed by China.

“China’s tariffs went from 13 percent to 53 percent,” said Jeff Olsen, president of the Chuck Olsen Company, Inc, but there was a silver lining. “Movement to China was down, but our sales to Korea were up.”

Kathleen Nave of the California Table Grape Commission, said, “Canada and Mexico are the top export markets for grapes, and there are no changes in USMCA that will impact exports to those markets. China is typically the number-three export market, but the 53-percent tariff had a negative impact on volumes shipped. Through November, volumes were down 40 percent.

“The need to find new customers for the grapes that would have gone to China, and the increased competition in export markets from competing U.S. fruits that also had tariffs imposed, created an unexpected spillover effect,” she said.


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