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Apple juice was a start

In the 1990s, China was granted the right to begin exporting apple juice concentrate to the U.S. Now it dominates the apple juice market here.

“The U.S. apple industry is gravely concerned about China’s potential entry into the U.S. market based on the apple industry’s experience with imports of apple juice concentrate, which has significantly diminished the market for juice apples,” the U.S. Apple Association said in a statement.

But farming isn’t the only U.S. industry in which China has asserted its dominance.

China is a big player in manufacturing — consumers find “made in China” labels all around the world — and now it could be coming for U.S. farmers. Critics say that China can produce apples so cheaply that such a move would put so much downward pressure on the price of U.S. apples that they could fall below the cost of production and push many apple growers out of business. Pickers in China typically get less than $1 hour, compared to 10 times that or more for American orchard workers.

China’s entry into the U.S. market could cause depressed apple prices, which would force a significant number of apple growers and marketers into bankruptcy,” the U.S. Apple Association warns.

But others believe that U.S. apple growers would benefit from the opportunity to sell in China, where demand for apples is growing. Farmers in Washington state are finding fewer places to sell their apples, even as they grow more apples than in the past. This is also problematic for smaller apple farmers in other parts of the country that have more competition from Washington state growers. If China were open to U.S. apple exports, the piece of the pie would be bigger for everyone.

Movement in talks

The debate has been dragging on for years, but there is some indication that negotiations are moving forward.

Chinese officials are actively negotiating about the entrance of their apples into the U.S. market with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service at the Department of Agriculture. In return, China would open its own borders to more U.S. apple producers.

“The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and our counterparts in China are working closely towards normalizing trade in apples,” Workabeba Yigzaw, spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, said in a statement. “We look forward to enhancing our bilateral trade relationship and continuing our work toward this mutually beneficial goal with China.

“Strong agricultural exports contribute to a positive U.S. trade balance, create jobs, boost economic growth and support President Obama’s National Export Initiative goal of doubling all U.S. exports by the end of 2014,” she added.

Currently, only Red and Golden Delicious apples are allowed in China, because Beijing officials in August 2012 banned most other American apple brands after a bad shipment they say was filled with “postharvest diseases.” Washington typically shipped about 500,000 boxes of apples annually into China before the ban.

But some trade analysts say the health finding was just China’s way of retaliating against the U.S. for not allowing it to sell apples here.

Apples were squarely on the agenda for a trade mission headed by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this month to Japan and China, according to Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission, who participated in the trip.

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