Mexico slaps 20 percent tariff on US apples; local farmers worried

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Some apple farmers in Washington are wringing their hands.

The Washington Apple Commission says Mexico will immediately slap a 20 percent tariff on apples from the United States in response to the Trump administration's tariffs on aluminum and steel.

The commission said Tuesday that Washington state is the nation's leading apple producer and Mexico is their biggest export market. The state's 1,300 growers are the source for almost all the U.S. apples sent to Mexico.

The tariff will certainly have an impact, said Kurt Tonnemaker of Tonnemaker Valley Farm in Woodinville. And there's little Washington growers can do.

"We're going to pick those apples come this fall and then sell the apples to the warehouse," Tonnemaker said. "The warehouse sells them for a lower price and we get less money for them to make up the difference in the price and the tariff."

Farming apples has to be planned years - if not decades - in advance. It's not like the farmers can decide to grow a different crop at the drop of a hat, Tonnemaker said.

"People will just lower the price until they can sell it," Tonnemaker said.

Last year, Washington growers shipped 13.7 million 40-pound cartons valued at more than $215 million to Mexico.

During the current season, shipments have been 13 percent ahead of last year and were on track to exceed 15 million bushels. The Apple Commission says the new tariff puts that goal in doubt.

The only previous trade war Tonnemaker can remember is President Jimmy Carter's grain embargo with the Soviet Union in 1980. He said wheat and grain sat around in storage for months, unsold.

He hopes that doesn't happen with his apples.