COOS COUNTY — China announced this week it will be placing a new tariff on about 120 imported U.S. goods, ranging from fresh fruit to scrap aluminum. A large portion of which will include various foods produced largely in Oregon such as hazelnuts, berries, apples, pears and wine. The increase will raise taxes on imported fruits and nuts to China to 15 percent and other commodities up to 25 percent.
According to the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Oregon has over 34,000 farms throughout the state and among those hazelnuts, blueberries, cherries and other assorted fruits consistently place high in the state’s top commodities and production. Currently, Oregon is China’s fourth-largest exporter of agricultural goods into their country. While the announcement begins to spread and settle into the homes of farmers everywhere, some local producers don’t seem to mind the change at all.
Walter “Wally” Hazen, co-owner of Hazen’s Riverside Blueberry Farm in Coquille, said as far as he can tell the new tariff will have zero effect on his blueberry business.
“All of our products are sold locally, we’ve developed a pretty large U-pick program and wholesale the remaining berries to local merchants,” said Hazen. “They simply come out, we hand them a bucket and they pick.”
Last year, Hazen mentioned he had sold about half of his crops to people visiting the farm and each year he sells about 25,000 to 30,000 pounds of blueberries. Besides selling to U-pickers, Hazen has built relationships with local business including the Coos Bay School District, Day Ship Supply, Coquille Valley Produce & Deli as well as providing berries for fundraisers around the county.
“I think the tariff is being looked at as a possible balancing act with our trade and I have no problem with that,” said Hazen. “There will probably be some farmers if the tariff goes through that may lose some of their sales, but that’s nothing new in the farming business.”
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Hazen isn’t the only one who won’t see much a difference with the new tariff. Darcy Kochis, the marketing director of the Oregon Raspberries and Blackberries Commission, said as far as raspberries and blackberries are concerned they haven’t been able to compete in China for a while since the current tariff has been in place.
“The reality is we were already at a 30 percent tariff rate with China,” said Kochis. “So for that specific crop (blackberries) we don’t export a lot right now, we had hoped to open trade doors and get to a more even playing field so we could compete against countries like Chile, who do have a free trade with China.”
Although some farmers and organizations won't be seeing a change, others are still waiting to see exactly what effects the tariff might bring. Andrea Cantu-Schomus, Communications Director for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said the full impact is still to be determined.
"What is unknown is whether Chinese consumers will be willing to pay more for Oregon products. Our assumption is there will be some effect," said Cantu-Schomus. "Despite federal trade uncertainties the Oregon Department of Agriculture will continue to pursue new opportunities and new export markets."
Among those waiting for answers and the effects of the new trade tax is The Cranberry Institute in Avondale, PA. Executive Director Terry Humfeld said in a written statement they are disappointed that cranberries are among those fruits included in the trade dispute.
"China is an important expanding market for U.S. cranberries, and tariffs could certainly be detrimental to U.S. cranberry growers, including those in Oregon," said Humfeld.
With the changes taking effect this past Monday, it is just a matter of time to see exactly how these new increases will play a role in each farming business throughout the state.
"There is great potential for continued growth so we hope that the parties involved can reach an agreement that will allow the cranberry industry to continue providing cranberry products to consumers in China," said Humfeld.