Counties that favored Trump hit hardest by budding trade war

Jun 29, 2018, 5:00 AM | Updated: 7:45 am

The Washington counties that most heavily favored Donald Trump in 2016 would feel the deepest economic bite of the president’s proposed China trade dispute, state and federal data shows.

The top five crop-producing counties in Washington — Grant, Yakima Benton, Franklin, and Walla Walla — produced more than $6 billion in sales last year. Much of it was in products such as apples, wheat, and hay that are targeted for the retaliatory tariffs in response to the president’s trade sanctions against China.

These are also the counties which supported the president over his opponent by an average margin of 18 percent — among the highest levels of support in the state.

By contrast, the counties which strongly favored his presidential opponent Hillary Clinton (King, Pierce, Snohomish) at this point bear much less of the weight of the possible trade war — with Boeing being a possible exception. But economists and airplane manufacturing experts have struggled to quantify the extent and cost of China’s threatened aircraft tariff.

RELATED: A lot at stake for Boeing as US-China trade tensions escalate

This isn’t the case with cherries, for example. Washington state farmers sold approximately $99 million in cherries and $17 million worth of apples to China in 2016, according to state and federal agricultural data. Farmers in Eastern Washington also sold $150 million in wheat and hay combined.

Of the state’s top 10 agricultural exports — products ranging from apples to fresh seafood to frozen french fries — China ranks as a top five buyer worldwide in every product but one. In total, China buys between $120 and $200 million in Washington agricultural products annually.

Trade war and Washington farmers

Grant County Commissioner Cindy Carter, whose family farms cherries, apples and other crops near Royal City, said the threat of a trade wars is deeply worrisome to people in her county where the economic diversity is measured by type of crop, not type of industry. She agreed that its unfortunate the counties who stood behind the president are disproportionately feeling the weight of the trade dispute.

“It feels like we are getting penalized (by federal policies),” Carter said. “We could get hit pretty hard with the tariffs. And its not just that; there is the labor issues, too.”

In an escalating war of words, the president has asked the U.S. Trade Representative’s office to create a list of $200 billion worth of Chinese products to target with tariffs. China has responded in kind, targeting U.S. goods from apples to airplanes.

Carter said she loves farming and would not trade it for anything else. But the possibility of a trade war coupled with the tightening of the farm labor pool that began with the Obama administration and continued into the Trump administration has made business difficult.

“We’re now paying better than $20 an hour to pick cherries,” she said. “This is not a minimum wage job.”

But keeping workers has proven difficult in recent months. And, she pointed out, it’s not like the cherries can just sit.

“You basically pay what people ask, now. When you lose labor for a crop, sometimes it means you lose the crop.”

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Counties that favored Trump hit hardest by budding trade war