Growing apart

Looming U.S. - China trade war threatens Oregon growers

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Diana Baker / The Torch
Besides being Oregon’s state nut, the hazelnut is on China’s list of agricultural goods that will likely be taxed as imports. Hazelnuts make up a large part of Oregon’s agricultural exports and the tax could negatively affect hazelnut farms.

In April, the Ministry of Finance of the People’s Republic of China published an online statement in which it announced China’s tariffs on imported U.S. goods, likely to affect Oregon’s agricultural goods.

According to a CNN report, the tariffs affect about $3 billion of U.S. exports. This was in response to the import tariffs the U.S. had placed on goods from China, including solar panels, steel and aluminum, according to the article.

China’s increase in taxes on American agricultural goods could affect Oregon, which exported $5.6 billion worth of goods to China in 2016, according to the U.S.-China Business Council. That year, China was Oregon’s main export market. The Euromonitor International, the major provider of worldwide market data and analyses, states that China is Oregon’s fourth-largest international market for the state’s food and agriculture.

Last year, the Oregon-China Sister State Relations Council, a nonprofit organization that encourages economic exchanges between Oregon and China, described China as “critically important” to Oregon’s economy. The organization quoted Steven White, a sales manager of Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods, a grains and baking mix company based in Oregon; approximately 300 million middle-class citizens in China purchase goods from the company, White said.

Andrea Cantu-Schomus, the director of communications at the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said that China “is poised to add roughly 160 million middle-class households over the next decade.” These households are likely to demand goods that Oregon excels at producing, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We want to connect Oregon producers to that kind of purchasing power,” she said.

Regarding the how China’s increased import taxes could directly affect Oregon, however, Cantu-Schomus said that “[i]t really is too soon to make a prediction.”

“What is also unknown is whether Chinese consumers will be willing to pay more for our products or if our competitors in the market will take the market share our Oregon companies have worked hard to establish,” she said.

Cantu-Schomus added that the Oregon Department of Agriculture continues to work on connecting producers in Oregon with China and other international export markets.