In a U.S.-China trade war, what are the stakes for the Valley?

Almonds was Fresno County’s top crop in 2017, generating a total value of $1.2 billion.
Almonds was Fresno County’s top crop in 2017, generating a total value of $1.2 billion. Fresno Bee file

The prospects for a trade war of dueling tariffs between the United States and China continue to put American agriculture, including farmers and ranchers in California, on the front lines.

The Trump administration announced Tuesday that it’s going ahead with tariffs on about $16 billion worth of Chinese imports starting Aug. 23, putting into action some of the rhetoric that the president and his trade representatives have promised for months and setting the stage for planned retaliation by China.

In the central San Joaquin Valley, an estimated 37,000 people work in industries involved in industries that produce goods and commodities targeted by China for retaliatory fees on exports to that country, according to an analysis earlier this year by the nonpartisan Brookings Institution. Tree fruit and nuts, cotton, and grapes, raisins and wine are among the products on which China is imposing a 15 percent tariff – on top of existing import duties that were already in place. Statewide, Brookings analysts estimated that more than 287,000 people work in industries that are at risk from Chinese tariffs – by far the most jobs of any state in the nation.

Many of the imported Chinese products facing tariffs under the Trump administration are industrial materials such as aluminum and steel as well as machinery and parts rather than consumer goods like toys, clothing or other products that people directly buy in stores. If the tariffs ultimately take effect, it could create a ripple effect as product manufacturers and processors bear the initial burden of the import duties and then pass the costs along to their consumers or end users.

Some tariffs on imported Chinese equipment potentially may be of interest to farmers in California and across the country: farm equipment such as plows, disc harrows, cultivators, mowers, harvesters and threshers, as well as food-processing equipment including milking machines for dairies, juice pressers, milling machinery and more.

China is the third-largest international export market for California goods behind Canada and Mexico. Exports from the state to China amounted to about $62.1 billion from 2013 through 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s foreign trade statistics. In 2016, the California Department of Food and Agriculture reported that farm exports to China totaled more than $2 billion – much of it in crops such as pistachios, almonds and citrus as well as dairy products that are concentrated in Fresno, Madera, Kings and Tulare counties.

Use the interactive feature below to see the scope of international exports from California to China and the rest of the world, including a breakdown of agricultural exports from the state.

Tim Sheehan: 559-441-6319; Twitter: @TimSheehanNews.