Trade War is Good for California’s Garlic Growers

28 May, 2019

Millions of farmers in the United States are losing money because China is not buying the crops they grow. But garlic growers are making more money because Chinese garlic now costs almost as much as U.S.-grown garlic.

For many years, sales of garlic grown in California were going down because garlic from China was less costly. Now, California garlic sales are rising, and may go higher as the U.S. government increases tariffs on Chinese products.

Ken Christopher at Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, California, U.S., March 29, 2019
Ken Christopher at Christopher Ranch in Gilroy, California, U.S., March 29, 2019

Ken Christopher is executive vice president of his family's company, Christopher Ranch. It is the largest of three commercial garlic producers in the United States. The other producers failed.

Christopher's company wants the tariffs to remain in effect.

"In a perfect world, we'd love to see the tariffs stay on forever," he said.

U.S. garlic growers are happy because most of their sales are to Americans.

Tariffs on Chinese garlic rose from 10 to 25 percent on May 9. That is when U.S. President Donald Trump increased tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese products. The increase destroyed any hope that the two countries would soon agree on a trade deal.

Since then, Chinese buyers have almost completely stopped buying soybeans from the United States. U.S. soybean farmers have too much of the crop left from last year.

The Trump administration set a 10 percent tariff on imports of Chinese garlic last September. Christopher noted that, after the taxes took effect, his company's U.S. garlic sales rose 15 percent during the last three months of 2018.

Then Trump ordered even higher tariffs this month after trade talks ended without agreement. The increase came just a few weeks before the U.S. garlic harvest.

"The timing couldn't be better for us," Christopher said. In the coming weeks, he added, he thinks there will a much larger demand for California garlic.

Christopher's family farm stretches over 2,300 hectares of grass-like garlic fields in Gilroy, California. He had traveled to Washington D.C. last year to ask the Trump administration to include garlic in the list of imports that would face tariffs.

In the 1990s, Christopher's grandfather urged U.S. lawmakers to enact a duty on Chinese garlic. At that time, officials accused China of dumping its garlic on the U.S. market – that is, selling the product for less than what it cost to grow.

"We understand in a broader economic sense that a trade war is not in the U.S. best interest," Ken Christopher said. "But since the tariffs were happening anyway, we needed to be sure that garlic was part of the equation."

Not everyone likes the garlic tariff. Last July, Christopher spoke in support of tariffs when he met with the U.S. International Trade Commission. At the same time, officials from one of the world's top seasoning companies, McCormick & Company Inc., were arguing against them.

McCormick says its spice mixtures often use Chinese garlic. The company says it is a different product from the garlic grown in the United States. McCormick's chief executive officer, Lawrence Kurzius, told the Reuters news agency that U.S. garlic cannot be used in place of Chinese garlic.

California garlic has traditionally sold at higher prices than Chinese garlic. In the wholesale market, it sells for about $60 per 30-pound box. Until recently, Chinese garlic sold for $20 per box, but that has risen to $40 with tariffs and will probably soon be higher, Kurzius said.

I'm Jill Robbins.

Lucy Nicholson and Richa Naidu reported on this story for Reuters. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

What goods from China are sold in your country? Are they sold at a higher or lower price than goods made in the country? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.


Words in This Story

tariff n. a tax on goods coming into or leaving a country

commercialadj. of or related to business and commerce

duty – n. a tax on goods that are being brought into a country

equation n. a complicated situation or issue

seasoning - n. a substance (such as salt, pepper, a spice, or an herb) that is used to add flavor to food

wholesaleadj. the sale of agricultural or other products in amounts usually for resale