Mexicans Warned Over Apple Tariff

Pressed by the U.S. apple industry and Washington state lawmakers, the Clinton administration is turning up the heat on Mexico in a dispute over its tariffs on apple imports.

The office of the U.S. trade representative issued a formal declaration to the Mexican government late Thursday in the trade rift over a 101 percent tariff on incoming apple shipments.

While stopping short of demanding removal of the duty, the administration’s strongly worded statement urged Mexico to expedite its final decision on whether to keep the tariff, aides to Sens. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Friday.

“Clearly the administration is going to bat for the apple industry and recognizes these duties are unjust and unwarranted,” Murray said.

“I applaud the USTR’s actions and call for the immediate lifting of this unfair and punitive tariff,” Gorton said.

“Any refusal to do so by the Mexican government would be viewed as a blatant act of protectionism that could not be ignored,” he said.

A spokesman for the Mexican Embassy here confirmed receipt of the declaration, called a “de marche.”

“We have not answered it yet but we are looking into it at this point,” said Jose Antonio Zabalgoitia, the embassy’s minister for information.

“It brings additional elements into consideration. We are open to all parties in providing elements that can help us get to a fair solution at the end of the process,” he said Friday.

On Sept. 1, Mexico levied the 101 percent duty on all Red Delicious and Golden Delicious apples imported from the United States, after farmers in Mexico’s Chihuahua growing region accused the United States of apple dumping.

Mexico is Washington state’s top foreign market for apple exports, and the tariff effectively ended the Northwest apple trade with Mexico. Under Mexico’s anti-dumping regulations, the duty is to remain in place until early February.

Murray met Friday with apple growers in Yakima.

“The duties are unjustified, clearly politically driven and they threaten the larger U.S.-Mexico trading relationship,” she said Friday.

The growers said a November audit by Mexican officials found no evidence Washington apples were dumped at below-market prices south of the border.

Investigators also checked invoices and financial records at two Yakima Valley fruit warehouses earlier this month.

“The Mexican government ought to conclude this charade and fully restore our access to the Mexican market,” Kraig Naasz, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council said last month.

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