House Passes Cantwell, Newhouse measure supporting cherry growers hurt by retaliatory tariffs

Bill now heads to president’s desk; Trump expected to sign into law

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the United States House of Representatives passed a provision pushed by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Congressman Dan Newhouse (WA-4), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, that will increase access to aid for cherry growers hurt by the unjustified retaliatory tariffs by China. The measure passed 354-58.

The provision passed the Senate in late May as part of the bipartisan disaster supplemental budget bill, which now heads to the president’s desk to be signed into law. President Trump is expected to sign the bill.

“Getting this aid is critical to supporting the more than 2,500 cherry growers in the Pacific Northwest and the thousands of jobs they support. While the priority for our growers remains an end to the trade disputes, all cherry growers must have access to this assistance,” said Cantwell.

“Cherry growers deserve the same aid available to other producers,” said Newhouse. “Central Washington producers want to grow and sell their high-quality cherries in strong domestic and international markets. This fix is essential to ensure growers can continue to operate in this upcoming growing season while the Administration continues their work to level the playing field with China. I appreciate the Administration’s support, and I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress and the executive branch to ensure open markets and access for Central Washington farmers.”

China is the number one market for Washington state sweet cherries, and the industry has faced multiple rounds of retaliatory tariffs, which have hurt growers throughout the state and threatened jobs. Washington state cherry sales to China dropped from 3.2 million cartons in 2017 to 1.6 million cartons in 2018. Some estimate that tariffs cost Washington state cherry growers between $60-80 million in lost profits.

“China is a huge market – taking eleven percent of the Pacific Northwest cherry crop in 2017, before the 40 percent retaliatory tariff was imposed” said Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council.

On Aug. 27, 2018, the Trump administration announced a $12 billion Trade Aid Package for agricultural producers impacted by retaliatory tariffs – but failed to include sweet cherries in the package.

Since cherries are acutely affected by tariffs given that they are highly perishable and cannot be stored, Cantwell and Newhouse pushed the administration to make sweet cherry growers eligible for assistance.

Cantwell and Newhouse were successful in their efforts. The USDA officially added sweet cherries on September 21, 2018.

However, many cherry growers were still unable to qualify for aid because their unique business structures fall outside the boundaries of the Market Facilitation Program’s requirements. These unique business structures are necessary because of the short growing season and harvest time sensitivity of cherries, which create tremendous pressure for the producers to sell their crop at any available price, even if it means financial losses.

The Cantwell-Newhouse provision that passed today would provide a one-time expansion of the eligibility guidelines of the Market Facilitation Program, allowing all cherry growers to receive financial assistance, as long as 75% of the business or individual grower’s income comes from farming, ranching or forestry related activities. The one-time payments will be made available through the administration’s Trade Aid Package.

“The Northwest Horticultural Council is pleased that this bill will provide all sweet cherry growers, who have and continue to be harmed by the retaliatory tariffs imposed by China, with the opportunity to apply for the trade mitigation offered by USDA,” said Powers. “This trade assistance will provide much-needed relief to cherry growers as they continue to weather the storm caused by forces outside of their control. We appreciate the leadership of Senator Cantwell and Representative Newhouse in addressing this issue.”

In late May, the USDA announced it will provide an additional $16 billion to assist farmers impacted by the retaliatory tariffs. The proposal provides funding for a Market Facilitation Program, Food Purchase and Distribution Program and Agricultural Trade Promotion Program and includes fresh sweet cherries and cranberries.