TRAVERSE CITY — Cherry farmers began the year with a disappointing decision from the International Trade Commission on imports from Turkey. They’re ending 2020 with good news about exports to Taiwan.

U.S. cherry growers decided not to appeal a Jan. 14 International Trade Commission ruling that unfairly priced imports of dried tart cherries don’t cause harm to the domestic industry. The case involved imports from Turkey that have cut into domestic sales of U.S. dried cherries.

But just last week, Taiwan’s government exempted U.S. cherry juice from a 15 percent import tariff. The change could pave the way for increased sales to that nation.

“It’s a great opportunity for us — a new market,” Nels Veliquette, vice president and CFO for Cherries R Us/Cherry Ke and member of the board of directors at Shoreline Fruit LLC, said of Taiwan. “Korea and China are both good markets. Trade war and COVID notwithstanding, there were bright areas for us” in 2020.

“The difference is, today if you want to sell cherry juice from the U.S. into Taiwan, you can pick up the phone and it’s 15 percent cheaper than it was yesterday and we didn’t have to lower our price.”

Imports from Turkey

Despite the ITC ruling, imports into the U.S. from Turkey were limited in 2020.

“The thing that has most affected the imports is COVID,” Veliquette said. “We have a bit of a reprieve because of the complications with shipping between countries. But as soon as that’s over, I expect them to come back after this market. In the meantime, we still have an ongoing customs case on trans-shipment of concentrate through Brazil. That’s still just in the investigative stage. Nothing has happened on that one yet.”

Trans-shipment occurs when a product of one nation is shipped to another country before it is shipped to a third country. The action can be used to sidestep tariffs.

“We’re aware of it and we’re keeping an eye on the trade data very closely. But, basically, we’ve gotten a reprieve because of the COVID situation,” said Veliquette.

An organization called the Dried Tart Cherry Trade Committee in 2019 petitioned the government with a claim that overseas competitors were unfairly pricing dried tart cherries imported into the U.S. The group includes Cherry Central Cooperative in Traverse City, Graceland Fruit, Inc. in Frankfort, Payson Fruit Growers Coop in Payson, Utah), Shoreline Fruit, LLC in Traverse City, and Smeltzer Orchard Co. in Frankfort.

When the ITC ruled in January, Michigan legislators were not pleased.

“This decision is unacceptable and ignores the facts: Turkish exporters have decimated Michigan’s cherry industry,” said U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich.

“Michigan cherry growers have enough challenges without having to deal with foreign competitors who cheat and violate our trade laws,” said U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

There’s been no change in government policies toward Turkey during 2020.

Exports to Taiwan

But the U.S. cherry industry has been working for years to open export opportunities to Taiwan.

“A couple of years ago when the Cherry Marketing Institute went to Taiwan, they were made aware of the difficulties in importing because of the 15 percent tariff. While there were businesses in Taiwan that were interested in cherry juice, they talked about the issue with the tariff.”

Several months later, U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, 2nd District, visited Taiwan on a different mission but also checked into the tariff on cherry juice.

“Huizenga’s office worked really hard on that,” Veliquette said. “And just this last week — this is specific to U.S. cherries, U.S. tart cherry juice — is now exempt from that 15 percent tariff going into Taiwan.”

Veliquette said the relationship between the Cherry Marketing Institute and all of Michigan’s legislators highlights the value of keeping in touch.

“It’s because we have good communication back and forth that Rep. Huizenga’s office was able to know about that (Taiwan’s cherry tariff), and then ask about it. Cherries are big deal in his district, too. That’s the kind of work CMI does, chipping away at these barriers here and there. We continue to work to open new markets.

“Every politician that supported cherries got re-elected,” said Veliquette. “That’s a good thing for the cherry industry, because all of the representatives, at whatever level of government, that we had been working with are back. We’re working with staff, representatives and politicians that already know us.”

“We’ve got all of our allies in place, we’ve got our eyes wide open, and we’re hoping for a good cherry season come summer.”