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Exclusive: Apples From Washington Are Being Shipped Back to India

That market had been effectively closed to Washington apple growers since the Trump administration-imposed tariffs on some Indian exports, prompting the Indian government to respond in kind with tariffs on American goods. Last summer, at the request of the Washington state congressional delegation, India agreed to remove the tariffs, allowing Washington apples to be sold in Indian grocery stores and markets again.

Now, with the opening of a long-awaited Indian consulate in Seattle, supporters hope the trade relationship will strengthen.

Last week, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and India Consul General Prakash Gupta gathered at the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 46 to celebrate the rebound in apple exports since India lifted retaliatory tariffs.

“Our apple growers, really, apples, are the pride of the Washington agricultural economy,” Cantwell told the audience.

Apples are the most important agricultural product in Washington State, which is the country’s leading apple producer, according to the Northwest Horticultural Council. In 2021, the Pacific Northwest produced nearly 5 billion pounds of apples.

For Washington apple growers, India represented a $120 million export market.

However, in 2019, India raised tariffs on apples, walnuts, lentils, and chickpeas from the United States by 20% in retaliation for the Trump administration’s tariffs on Indian steel and aluminium.

The Trump administration’s tariffs, along with retaliatory tariffs, “decimated a $120 million market for our agricultural products,” Cantwell said. “With 68,000 people employed in Central Washington in the apple-growing economy, it had an impact.”

Cantwell has been raising the dispute with US Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo since January 2023. She also discussed the issue with the United States ambassador to India.

In 2019, India increased tariffs by 20% on US goods. Senator Cantwell, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a visit to India and led a letter to President Joe Biden requesting an end to the retaliatory tariffs.

Before India imposed tariffs, approximately one-third of Washington State’s apple crop was exported. Riley Bushue, director of congressional relations and export programmes for the Northwest Horticultural Council, stated that 24% of the total crop was exported last season, prior to the retaliatory tariffs being lifted. This season, he expects that figure “to be closer to 30%.”

With tariffs removed for the current season, total apple sales from Washington to India are expected to be slightly higher than $16 million, with growers halfway through the shipment season. Cantwell reported that sales totaled $1.3 million last season.

The rebound in apple exports is also good news for the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, as it increases container volume.

“Even if we invest in our terminals and provide the best services, if we don’t have the right trade policies in place, it undermines our success,” Port of Seattle Commission President Hamdi Mohamed said at the event Tuesday.

Richard Austin, president of an International Longshore and Warehouse Union local that represents some port workers, said dockworkers are eager to help Washington apples move through the Tacoma and Seattle ports.

The new India consul general in Seattle attended the event. During a state visit to Washington, D.C., in June, Modi announced the tariff reduction as well as the opening of a consulate in Seattle.

The move was in response to increased trade connections between India and the Northwest, which has resulted in an increase in the number of Indians and Indian Americans over the last decade. According to Census Bureau data, there were approximately 161,124 people of Indian heritage in Washington in 2020, more than doubling the previous decade.

The consulate opened in November and is now temporarily housed in the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in downtown Seattle.

Gupta, who later gave Cantwell an Indian flag stole, stated that, in addition to the consulate’s focus on technology, he hopes to “further strengthen bilateral trade between India and the United States,” particularly in Washington.

He mentioned going to Starbucks in the morning and thinking about how to bring Indian coffee there. He stated that he would also like to import Indian mangos.
“We look forward to more diversification,” Gupta stated.

Cantwell told Gupta that she wants to expand India’s apple economy and increase export opportunities.

“What we want to see is more trade opportunities and expanding markets,” she said in an interview. “We, Washington, are a very trade-dependent state.”

According to Cantwell, Modi’s trade policy focuses on agriculture, and the two governments have been working to improve trade relations. However, the future of US-India trade is dependent on the upcoming presidential election.

If reelected, former President Donald Trump proposed a 10% tariff on all imported goods, which could have an impact on trade relations with India. Trump described his plan as “an eye for an eye, a tariff for a tariff.”

His supporters argue that higher consumer prices will be offset by job growth, with one Trump trade adviser telling The New York Times in December that “if you think the person is better off on the unemployment queue with a third 40-inch television than working with only two, then you’re not going to agree with me.”

According to a report by the nonprofit Tax Foundation, that plan could cost US taxpayers $300 billion and result in trade retaliation.

Tariff retaliation harms working families, Cantwell stated.

“I would hope that any administration in the future would not see tariffs as the end-all answer,” she went on to say, “because it’s not.”

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