U.S.-China Trade Dispute Means Room At The Table For Oregon’s Hazelnut Farmers

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Larry George CEO, Northwest Hazelnut Company
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Talking heads on the news often paint the U.S.-China trade issue with the broad brush of “conflict” — a polarizing, zero-sum game of winners and losers. So much so, that they fail to see the nuanced opportunities for meaningful solutions through the rhetorical trees. Heated and alarmist claims about “trade wars,” winners and losers, China’s motives or President Trump’s momentum cause me to ask: Where is the optimism, goodwill, or common sense that must lead us forward?

I am observing — far away from the 24-hour news studios, on farms and orchards and at the desks of small business owners across the United States — that the “trade issue” is sparking new and welcome trade discussions between these two great trading partners. I’m watching stories and discussions emerge that can solve the nagging and oft-neglected tariff problems borne by small farmers and industries. Far from the polarizing pundits, I believe these discussions offer solutions where everyone wins.

So, cozy up to a jar of Nutella or a hazelnut coffee. Sit down and allow me a few minutes to share a different story: of how this trade dispute may be the feel-good story for small American farmers and Chinese consumers.

China and the United States are long-term partners, and sometimes the strongest partners and friends need to air out disagreements. The Oregon hazelnut industry believes this most recent trade dispute offers us a real opportunity for a place at the table; to enter discussions around issues long overlooked in favor of bigger players and fancier board rooms in D.C. trade negotiations.

About 99 percent of U.S. production of hazelnuts comes from the state of Oregon. Over 2,000 Oregon farm families grow an average of 39 acres of hazelnuts per farm. This small industry has a huge economic impact on rural communities in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

When consumers in China get to taste the rich flavor of Oregon-grown hazelnuts, demand goes way up. However, high tariffs specific to U.S. hazelnuts have blocked Oregon farmers from shipping directly to eager Chinese consumers.

While tariffs on larger crops and commodities were lowered in past negotiations, hazelnuts remained way down the list — a small crop in a small state — and were overlooked by U.S. negotiators. In other words, we never got on “the list.” This has left Oregon hazelnuts with a pre-existing 25 percent tariff on top of the 14.5 percent VAT tax in China, making Oregon hazelnuts (at a punishing 40 percent tariff/tax) inaccessible to the Chinese consumer.

It is time to talk about eliminating the tariffs on U.S. hazelnuts, both for the benefit of Chinese consumers and the long-term good of a small farm industry.

This round of trade discussions is proving to be totally unique. Apart from the conflict-laden narrative cultivated in news rooms, it appears both President Trump and President Xi Jinping are opening new doors for open dialogue and discussion about overlooked issues like the tariff on U.S. hazelnuts.

The state of Oregon enjoys friendly trade and political diplomacy with China and has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to cooperation and dialogue. This effort has built strong ties with China, receiving hearty and broad support from both Democrats and Republicans in our state.

Oregon’s long-standing relationship with China paid off in April, right on the heels of adversarial talk about tariffs. Chinese officials reached out to Oregon hazelnut farmers, asking what help is needed for family farmers get their product into China. This is the type of communication and cooperation that leads to progress. It’s not, however, what makes it to the newsroom.

For many in the media, it seems to be a sport: to pit one side against the other, to pick a winner and a loser, to downplay the hope for meaningful solutions. It’s an outmoded and binary way of thinking.

But with directional thinking — inviting overlooked industries to the table, inviting a broader range of options and solutions — more U.S. products can flow into China. More Chinese consumers will benefit from access to a wider range of high-quality, American agricultural products.

Oregon’s hazelnut farmers are proud of their exceptional, high-quality crop and delicious hazelnut products that can compete anywhere in the world where we have access. Hazelnuts are sustainably harvested and processed, and sustainably grown by 2,000 small family farms in the beautiful Willamette Valley. If our current optimism, goodwill and common-sense discussions continue in our U.S. and China trade discussions, I believe we could soon eliminate the hazelnut tariff. That feel-good story will also be the “taste-good” story, like that hazelnut coffee you just savored while reading our story, a story of waging cooperation and wins on all sides in the so-called trade war.

Larry George is the CEO at Northwest Hazelnut Company.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.