Washington Gov. Jay Inslee talked trade wars, wildfires and economic development during a brief visit to the Tri-Cities on Thursday.
Inslee, a Democrat who once represented the Mid-Columbia in Congress, said he’s hearing alarming reports that retaliatory tariffs levied by China and Mexico could have devastating consequences not only to Washington farmers but to the many businesses that depend on them.
Washington cherry growers have not released an estimate of the financial damage of losing markets for the 2018 crop.
But after meeting with fruit growers in Yakima last week, Inslee said it will be in the millions.
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The state Department of Agriculture estimates $650 million of Washington agricultural exports are at risk in the trade war, including $100 million of cherries exported to China.
The tariffs were a response to President Trump’s move to impose tariffs — first on aluminum and steel, then intellectual property — a move to leverage better trade deals.
It’s not just agriculture that’s caught in the crosshairs, Inslee said during a brief press conference after a private meeting the the Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Pasco.
Employees, vendors and related businesses suffer when farmers stop hiring people, contracting with suppliers and buying from service providers.
“It rattles through the economy,” he said.
Inslee also noted that the $12 billion aid package announced in July offers little respite for Washington’s fruit growers.
Farmers want trade, not aid, he said, adding that Washington doesn’t have specific tools to help affected business.
Washington, the nation’s most trade-dependent state, is the big loser, Inslee said.
Inslee also touched wildfires, linking the crisis to climate change. He said the state needs more resources to mobilize to fight fires.
But it also needs to do its part to reduce carbon emissions.
“This is almost a permanent condition because of climate change,” he said.
Without a climate strategy, Washington forests will be “toast.”
Inslee also addressed the annual convention of the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council, being held in Kennewick, and toured the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory at Hanford.