Washington's Fruit Growers Hope Trade Deal Means More Business

Washington fruit growers are hoping the Trans-Pacific Partnership will lead to fewer tariffs and higher sales when their crops are exported to other nations.

Mnet 147921 Apple Crop Lead 7

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — Washington fruit growers are hoping the Trans-Pacific Partnership will lead to fewer tariffs and higher sales when their crops are exported to other nations.

But many details of the proposed trade agreement between 12 Pacific Rim nations remain under wraps and final passage is far from certain.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership would create a trade network of lowered tariffs for hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods between the United States and 11 other nations in Asia, North America and South America.

The Yakima Herald-Republic reported that after five years of talks, negotiators agreed to the TPP in principle earlier this month in Atlanta, though each government has yet to approve it.

The proposal is receiving a lukewarm reception in the United States.

"All we're trying to do is sell fruit," said Chris Schlect, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, a Yakima organization that represents the tree fruit industry in trade matters.

The Horticultural Council has not taken a position on the TPP, though Schlect backs its general principles of lower tariffs and more predictable trade rules.

"I anticipate that we'll be positive," Schlect said.

The White House has not released the entire text of the proposed agreement to Congress yet, which can pass or reject the agreement, but not modify it.

Trade representatives from the other nations have their own battles at home, making the deal's future cloudy even with U.S. backing.

"Other countries could drag their feet," said Desmond O'Rourke, chief executive officer of Belrose, a global apple market analysis firm in Pullman, Washington.

The fruit industry here views developing Asian nations, many of those in the TPP circle, as its most crucial chance for growth.

In 2014, the United States shipped $915 million of fresh apples, cherries and pears to TPP nations, roughly half the total value of all exports of those three fruits.

Washington tops the nation in production of all three, with apples the state's most lucrative crop. Apples alone contribute about $7.5 billion to the state's economy each year and employ 61,000 workers, according to a 2014 economic impact study commissioned by the industry.

Washington grows about 60 percent of the U.S. apples, but accounts for roughly 85 percent of the exports.

Countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Singapore have growing middle classes with enough income to buy things like fresh imported fruit.

"The economics tell us that's where the rising middle class is going to be in the next decade or two," said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission.

The state exports about 30 percent of its apples, cherries and pears.

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