WASHINGTON — India will lift tariffs on imports of American apples, lentils and chickpeas in a move long sought by Inland Northwest farmers, the top U.S. trade official announced after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with President Joe Biden on Thursday.
The trade agreement will take effect within 90 days and could be a boon for the region’s apples growers and grain farmers, who plant lentils and chickpeas as a rotational crop with wheat. India was a major export market for those crops until its government imposed steep tariffs in 2018 in retaliation for the United States raising import duties on certain steel and aluminum products.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, a Washington Democrat who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, met with Modi during a trip to India in February and asked Biden in a June letter to raise the issue during the Indian premier’s D.C. visit. She hailed the decision in remarks on the Senate floor just before Modi addressed a joint session of Congress.
“Today is a very good day for Washington’s world-famous apples and an huge boost to Washington state’s agriculture economy,” Cantwell said in a statement, adding that the tariffs had “all but shut down the Indian market for Washington’s more than 1,400 apple growers.”
India was once the second-biggest export market for Washington apples, but exports fell more than 99% after the tariffs took effect — from $120 million in 2017 to $760,000 this season — according to the Northwest Horticultural Council, which represents the region’s apple growers and exports. U.S. exports of pulse crops to India fell from $165 million in the 2014-15 season to barely $1 million in the 2021-22 season, according to the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, an industry group based in Moscow, Idaho.
President Donald Trump imposed the tariffs, arguing that cheaper foreign steel and aluminum from foreign sources were forcing some domestic manufacturers to close. Politico reported that a spokesperson of the United States Trade Representative’s office said India agreed to lift the tariffs without the United States revoking the tariffs on Indian aluminum and steel that Trump imposed.
In January, Washington state’s entire congressional delegation signed a letter urging U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai to negotiate an end to the tit-for-tat tariffs the two countries imposed during the Trump administration. Tai announced the deal as part of a broader trade agreement.
“As a result of our work, U.S. agricultural producers and manufacturers will now enjoy renewed access to a critical global market and we will strengthen our trade relationship with one of our closest partners,” Tai said in a statement.
Mark Powers, president of the Yakima-based Northwest Horticultural Council, said Thursday’s breakthrough was the product of years negotiations by lawmakers and government officials.
“This is a win for apples,” he said in a statement. “We are eager to get back to business in India, for our growers to quickly engage in rebuilding this important market, and to once again sell our high-quality, healthful apples to the consumers in India.”
Aaron Flansburg, a farmer from Palouse and chair of the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, thanked the Biden administration, members of Congress and others who have spent years advocating for better trade relations with India.
“After nearly six challenging years of trade disruption, we welcome the opportunity to compete fairly in the Indian market,” Flansburg said in a statement. “This move will certainly help our farmers grow more pulses, one of the most sustainable crops worldwide.”
Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Republican who represents Central Washington and pushed the Trump administration to negotiate and end to the tariffs, welcomed the announcement.
“Today is a victory for Central Washington’s agriculture industry,” Newhouse said in a statement. “Washington state grows the best apples in the world, and India Prime Minister Modi’s announcement to lift the retaliatory tariffs on U.S. apples and pulses will significantly increase market access for farmers in Washington state and across the nation.”