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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Trump’s $16 billion farm-aid package may include Washington cherry growers

Jorge Bacquez holds the first of five bins of cherries he picked on Thursday, August 2, 2018, at Jake and Michelle Gutzwiler's orchard in Wenatchee. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
From staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Thursday announced another $16 billion in aid to farmers hurt by his trade policies on the same day Washington lawmakers in Congress secured potential help for Washington’s cherry growers.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the first of three payments is likely to be made in July or August and suggested that U.S. negotiators may be weeks away from settling a bitter trade dispute with China.

The latest bailout comes after the Trump administration pumped $11 billion in aid to mostly Midwest farmers last year. However, none of that 2018 money was allocated to cover the struggles of Washington cherry growers, U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., said in a news release.

“Cherry growers deserve the same aid available to other producers,” Newhouse said. “This fix is essential to ensure growers can continue to operate in this upcoming growing season while the administration continues their work to level the playing field with China.”

In 2018, Trump imposed import taxes on foreign steel, aluminum, solar panels, dishwashers and thousands of other Chinese products. China responded with retaliatory tariffs of its own, focusing on U.S. agricultural products in a direct shot at the American heartland, where support for Trump runs high.

China had been Washington’s top export market for sweet cherries before it bumped a 10% tariff up to 50% last year. As a result, cherry sales to China dropped from 3.2 million cartons in 2017 to 1.6 million cartons in 2018. It’s estimated the tariffs cost cherry growers $60 million to $80 million in lost profits.

“China is a huge market, taking 11% of the Pacific Northwest cherry crop in 2017 before the 40% retaliatory tariff was imposed,” Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, said in the news release.

After cherry producers were left out of the 2017 aid package, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Newhouse secured a provision, which passed the Senate on Thursday, to make sure cherry producers are included in the new aid package.

“Getting this aid is critical to supporting the more than 2,500 cherry growers in the Pacific Northwest and the thousands of jobs they support,” Cantwell said in the news release. “While the priority for our growers remains an end to the trade disputes, all cherry growers must have access to this assistance.”

Now that the bill has passed the Senate, it now goes back to the U.S. House of Representatives for passage and then to Trump’s desk to be signed into law.

“This trade assistance will provide much-needed relief to cherry growers as they continue to weather the storm caused by forces outside of their control,” said Powers, whose organization supports apple, cherry and pear growers in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. “We appreciate the leadership of Senator Cantwell and Representative Newhouse in addressing this issue.”

While news improved for Washington producers, financial markets buckled Thursday on heightened tensions between the U.S. and China. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 286.14 points and was down as as much as 448 points earlier in the day.

U.S. crude plunged 6% on fears that the trade standoff could knock the global economy out of kilter and kill demand for energy.

Talks between the world’s two biggest economies broke off earlier this month with no resolution to a dispute over Beijing’s aggressive efforts to challenge American technological dominance. The U.S. charges that China is stealing technology, unfairly subsidizing its own companies and forcing U.S. companies to hand over trade secrets if they want access to the Chinese market.

Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to discuss the standoff at a meeting of the Group of 20 major economies in Osaka, Japan, next month.

But briefing reporters on the farm aid package, Perdue said he doubted that “a trade deal could be consummated before” the first payments to farmers in July or August.

In Beijing, China held the door open to resuming talks in the tariff war with Washington on Thursday, but lashed out at limits on access to key technologies that it said might hurt global supply chains.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China hopes to restart the talks that broke down earlier this month after the U.S. increased tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports, but only if the conditions are deemed fair.

“China is open to the door of dialogue, but sincerity is indispensable to make a consultation meaningful,” Lu said at a regularly scheduled briefing. “A mutually beneficial agreement must be based on mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit.”

Seeking to rally support for its side in the tariff war, Beijing is vehemently protesting the Trump administration’s decision last week to impose controls on exports of computer chips and other key components.

The move, mainly aimed at telecom equipment maker Huawei and other Chinese high-tech companies, will hinder global cooperation in science and technology and has “harmed the vital interests of relevant enterprises and countries,” Lu said.

A spokesman for China’s Commerce Ministry said Washington was “using American national power to suppress Chinese companies.”

This “not only seriously disrupts regular business cooperation between the sides’ enterprises, but also seriously threatens the security of the global industrial supply chain,” the spokesman, Gao Feng, told reporters.