Trade spat over garlic imports

Sino-US trade relations have soured since a flood of cheap garlic left US farmers with a Chinese puzzle

By Leo Lewis
Tuesday 14 January 2014 02:35

Despite emergency legislation, shipment seizures and gigantic tariffs, America is drowning in a sea of Chinese garlic.

Although garlic imports from China have to be transported at considerable expense across the Pacific and are subject to an enormous 400 per cent duty, they still sell in the supermarkets for less than US farmers can produce similarly aromatic crops.

No measure the US government has tried appears able to stem the tide of low-priced goods, which is also damaging America's domestic apple and honey industries. US consumers are thought unlikely to show their patriotism: Chinese garlic is considered better quality and is less than half the price of domestic produce.

The flood started with China's entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO) last December, and represents a colossal backfire of US trade policy. In California, farmers have been forced to cut garlic cultivation for the first time in nearly 40 years. Just three years ago, Californian authorities were only too glad to embrace normalised trade with China. Sensing the opportunity to sell pistachios and almonds into the huge Chinese market, Californian growers actively pushed for China's entry into the WTO.

Any farmers who did have misgivings were soon silenced by the then booming technology industry, which was also eyeing the great potential of the Chinese market.

But it is now clear that when it comes to agriculture, the US has lost more than it gained. More than half of China's 1.4 billion population work on farms; the country has enormous resources, and the whole growing process is centrally planned. Commodities analysts are now predicting that garlic is just the vanguard of a major trade assault by China that could see the US market dominated by Chinese crops within 10 years.

China's actions are under heavy fire from the US International Trade Commission, which is now accusing importers of breaching "anti-dumping" laws by selling goods belowhome market costs.

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