Years ago, cherries from the state of Washington were among the top-selling US products on China's premium e-commerce site Tmall. This year on the same platform, American cherries are rare. Cherries from Chile, instead, are the most coveted fruits.
Cherries are some of the earliest goods that benefited from the global expansion of e-commerce in China. In 2014, Peter Verbrugge, a third-generation American farmer and president of the fruit production company Sage Fruit, was one of the six bell-ringers when Alibaba went public in the US stock market.
In the market within 48 hours
In order to let those highly perishable cherries reach the China market as soon as possible, charter planes were employed so that cherries just taken down from trees in Washington can reach China in 48 hours. The cherries were flown from the West Coast straight to Shanghai, after which they would be immediately packaged and sent to customers across China.
In 2017, the US exported 27,000 tons of cherries to China, a 95-percent increase from the last year, thanks to the burgeoning appetite for the premium fruit among the rising middle class in China.
As the trade war hit, the boom in cherry trade between the US and China turned sour almost overnight. In April last year, a 15-percent retaliatory tariff from China was slapped on cherries from the US, in response to the U.S's Section 232 tariffs imposed on Chinese steel and aluminum imports.
Two months later, an additional 25-percent tariff was put in place, coupled with a 10-percent tariff increase in September this year. All these effectively bring the total tariff level on cherries up to 60 percent, according to Northwest Horticultural Council, a non-profit trade association that represents the tree fruit industry of the Pacific Northwest in the US.
According to a local newspaper, the Pacific Northwest states shipped more than three million 20-pound boxes in 2017. After two rounds of tariff hikes, shipments dropped to 1.7 million, a drop of around 40 percent.