How U.S. trade disputes affect Washington state’s agricultural communities

Jan 8, 2019

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Key Findings

  1. For Washington state agriculture, maintaining good trade relationships is a top priority that is central to the incomes of farm families, farmworkers, and other agriculture-related employees across the state. 
  2. Washington is the third largest exporter of food and agricultural products in the nation. One of its top exports is fresh fruit, a commodity subjected to Chinese tariffs.
  3. Washington exported $76.4 billion worth of products in 2017.  Products related to agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting made up 16 percent of the state’s exports.
  4. Key agricultural trading partners for Washington state include China, the European Union, Canada and Mexico.  All are affected by tariffs and discussion of new trade agreements, bringing uncertainty to our trade relationships. 
  5. In general, the Washington agricultural community and the nation’s farming families are better off under policies that reduce tariffs and create free trade agreements with more partners. 
  6. Without a policy of access to new markets and strengthened trade relations, the U.S. risks being outpaced by countries that are eager to forge trade agreements that allow their farmers to compete in the global marketplace.


For Washington agriculture, trade is a top priority that affects the pocketbooks of farmers, farmworkers, and other agricultural employees.  Washington state is one of the most trade-dependent states in the nation, and national trade policy has the potential of either greatly hurting or helping the household incomes of the state’s rural families. 

The long-term costs of the latest trade disruption, created by the unionized labor slowdown at West Coast ports in 2015, are still being felt by the farming community, as agricultural businesses attempt to restore access to lost markets.  Unfortunately, instead of continuing to increase cooperation with trading partners and forge new trade deals, the United States has backed out of some existing trade deals and has engaged in negotiation tactics that put the incomes of Washington farmers and agricultural businesses at risk.

The effect of trade disputes on Washington state 

The current trade dispute with China and other trading partners threatens the foundation of Washington’s export industry.  Washington is the third largest exporter of food and agricultural products in the nation.  One of its top exports is fresh fruit, a commodity subject to Chinese tariffs.  In 2017, Washington shipped $193 million worth of fresh cherries, apples and pears to China.  Among states, Washington ranked the highest in total value of exports to China and only two other states have a higher proportion of their exports bound for China (New Mexico and Alaska).

A recent report estimates that Washington exports have already dropped by 28 percent from the current trade dispute.  Comparing the same time period from April through September to the previous year’s exports, shows that Washington farmers and other export-dependent producers saw a decrease in exports estimated at between 20 and 28 percent.  The most perishable products, including cherries, have been the hardest hit by the trade dispute. 

This Policy Brief provides an overview of the importance of agricultural trade for Washington state, looks at the historic and current value of our trade agreements with Canada and Mexico, and analyzes the potential cost of increasing tariffs imposed on Washington agriculture and farming communities.  The intent of this publication is to show the importance of agricultural trade for Washington state and the interest farmers, workers and families have in increasing U.S. cooperation with international trading partners.

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