Trade wars — like all wars — end up with innocent people suffering.
Since Washington is one of the most trade-dependent states in the country, our residents likely will be among those hurt the most by the current, global tariff battle.
Last spring, state leaders in business and agriculture warned that President Trump’s decision to impose more tariffs on steel and aluminum from China and other countries was unwise and could lead to retaliation against American goods.
Now we see how those predictions are being played out, and it’s alarming.
Farmers, especially, are taking a big hit.
The Washington Department of Agriculture calculates $650 million in agriculture exports is at risk — $480 million to China and $166 million to Mexico.
Locally grown and processed crops such as apples, wheat, cherries, and hay and potato products are included on the tariff hit list.
Mark Powers of the Northwest Horticulture Council told the Tri-City Herald, “We really need to return to a normal trade environment.”
He said this year should have been great for Washington cherry growers because our state had an excellent growing season, while California’s was weak.
With the cherry market almost to themselves, Washington growers should have had high expectations. But the short and fast cherry season opened with a 15 percent tariff from China, which was in response to the initial U.S. steel and aluminum tariff.
That then grew another 25 percent when China shot back against tariffs on intellectual properties.
While Powers said it is too soon to calculate the damage to the cherry market, we think it’s a shame there had to be damage at all.
As for wheat, Scott Yates, spokesman for the Washington Grain Commission, said that around this time last year the Northwest had exported 270,000 metric tons worth $51 million to China.
Since the trade war started, “We haven’t sold anything this year,” Yates told The Herald.
These are just a couple of crops that have been caught in the tariff cross-fire. There are many others throughout the country.
To alleviate some of the financial hardship the trade war has caused agriculture, Trump last week offered a $12 billion aid package to American farmers.
But that money is just a bandage for the short-term. Farmers are most worried about losing an international market for their crops. “Farmers want trade, not aid,” said U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane.
Trump recently announced he believed trade tensions have been lowered after his meeting with the European Union, which he said agreed to increase imports of American products.
How much this helps in the overall trade battle remains to be seen, however. There is still much negotiating to be done.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., noted that 40 percent of Washington state jobs are tied to international trade, and that represents 1.5 million jobs.
At a Senate Finance Committee hearing in June, Cantwell said, “People who are farmers, who own small businesses … who fight every day to get access to Asian markets, to India, to Canada, to Mexico, they believe in a trade policy that keeps moving forward.”
She added U.S. agriculture can “still win,” but not with a tariff battle in play.
Powers said there is still time for the Trump administration to resolve the international trade dispute before the fall apple harvest.
That’s a deadline the Trump administration should heed. Washington state’s economy shouldn’t have to be a casualty in this political trade battle.