June 25 (UPI) -- As America's second-leading importer of fresh apples, India might have dealt a major blow to that U.S. industry by imposing tariffs on the fruit, producers fear.
"India was exploding as a market for imported apples," said Jim Bair, the president and CEO of the U.S. Apple Association. "Then, when the tariffs went into effect, it fell off the cliff."
India announced June 15 it would impose a 20 percent tariff on U.S. apples -- along with 27 other products including almonds, walnuts and lentils.
The move came in retaliation for the Trump administration revoking India's preferential trade privileges. But India had been threatening to impose the tariffs since August, when the United States began taxing imports of steel and aluminum from that nation. India had delayed implementing the retaliatory tariffs several times as negotiations continued.
The tariff mainly impacts growers in Washington state, which produces the vast majority of America's apples. Around a quarter of U.S. apples are exported each year -- and 95 percent of those are grown in Washington.
"So, any trade disruptions really target the Washington apple industry," said Toni Lynn Adams, a spokeswoman for the Washington Apple Commission, which promotes and markets the state's apples internationally.
Mexico is the top importer for U.S. apples. Canada usually claims the second spot, but last year India surpassed Canada for the first time, importing some 320 million pounds compared to Canada's roughly 280 million pounds.
That trend ended abruptly after India announced its intention to impose the retaliatory tariff, Adams said.
"When they made that announcement, there was a rush to get fruit into the market before the cost went up," Adams said. "So, all that fruit flooded the market, and it really disrupted the market."
After that, India's imports dropped substantially, and did not recover. So far this year, India has imported 60 percent fewer American apples, Adams said.
If the trend continues, apple prices will fall.
"Lost sales always result in lost revenue," the apple association's Bair said. "And it looks like we have a huge crop coming on this year. We're going to need to find places to sell it. People are getting very anxious to get these trade disputes settled."
The conflict with India is not the only trade dispute impacting the apple industry. Last spring, America's top apple importer -- Mexico -- placed a 20 percent tariff on U.S. apples in retaliation for the steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the United States.
While they were in place, exports to Mexico fell more than 20 percent, according to the Washington Apple Commission. But Mexico lifted the tariffs in May, after the U.S. agreed to remove its steel and aluminum duties, delighting the apple industry.
That excitement was short-lived, though, as growers now fear what could happen if Congress does not approve the new USMCA trade deal, which the Trump administration negotiated to replace NAFTA.
"We're really hopeful that it gets passed so we can have some stability with our top export markets," Adams said.
The trade dispute with China also is having an impact, Adams added. That nation is America's sixth-leading apple importer, often choosing higher quality -- thus higher priced -- apples. However, China placed a 25 percent tariff on the U.S. fruit last spring, in retaliation for similar tariffs levied by the Trump administration and that slowed trade.
Apple growers are feeling the pressure, Adams said. Total apple exports -- to all countries -- have fallen more than 30 percent this year, she said. Industry experts expect that number to rise if the trade disputes continue after fall harvest, when American apples flood the market.
"This is an overwhelming issue," she said. "We're getting hit on three major markets. One market is something to overcome. But three is a major obstacle."