Politics & Government

Can Pompeo get India to roll back almond tariffs? California Democrat hopes so

Retaliatory tariffs announced by India would be disastrous to California farmers in the Central Valley, and representatives of the area are hoping that a meeting between India’s prime minister and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will lead to a reversal.

The tariffs announced by India on almonds and 27 other U.S. products — a retaliation for President Donald Trump’s administration removing India from a decades-old trade privilege — began to be implemented last Sunday. They’re poised to be particularly devastating to almond farmers in California, which exported more than $650 million in almonds to India in 2018.

Almond farmers were already dealing with tariffs on their products in China, another retaliatory tariff due to actions taken by the Trump administration. But India is currently their top export market, and those tariffs represent a larger financial threat.

“India is an important market for California almonds. This shipping season, India is our No. 1 export destination and has been growing in light of the ongoing trade situation with China,” said Elaine Trevino, president of the Almond Alliance of California. “We are hopeful that these tariffs are resolved quickly and don’t disrupt the access Indian consumers have to California almonds.”

Pompeo is meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday, when he plans to speak on the tariffs before Modi and Trump meet at a G20 gathering in Japan later in the week. A senior State Department official said in a call with reporters Friday that trade will “obviously be a topic in these meetings,” adding that the issue is unlikely to be resolved in one meeting.

“The secretary certainly is going to discuss trade, and our ambition is to be able, with the new administration of Prime Minister Modi, to make headway, to jumpstart a discussion on trade, and to move quickly to resolve what have been very long-standing differences and irritants in the bilateral relationship,” the senior State Department official said.

Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, who represents an area with many almond farmers, is hopeful Pompeo can take steps to roll back the tariffs. He sent a letter to Pompeo Friday and asking him to resolve the issue during his visit to India.

“Our top diplomat is meeting with India’s Prime Minister – his job is to advance American interests, and that includes the needs of the Central Valley,” Harder said. “I hope he takes this seriously, because these tariffs could be a big problem for our local economy.”

Kate Irby is based in Washington, D.C. and reports on issues important to McClatchy’s California newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, Fresno Bee and Modesto Bee. She previously reported on breaking news in D.C., politics in Florida for the Bradenton Herald and politics in Ohio for the Cleveland Plain Dealer.