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Washington — Michigan cherry farmers and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, petitioned the U.S. government on Tuesday to impose a nearly 650% tariff on dried tart cherries from Turkey.

The International Trade Commission had a final hearing in its investigation of whether Turkey, the world's largest tart cherry producer, has been unfairly hampering American farmers’ ability to compete by subsidizing its cherry growers. Peters implored the panel to finalize a determination on antidumping and countervailing tariffs on Turkish imports.

"Michigan produces more than 70% of the nation's tart cherries," Peters said. "Unfortunately, Michigan cherry farmers have been forced to compete with heavily government subsidized cherry products from Turkey. In Traverse City — host of the annual National Cherry Festival — many cherry farmers have faced and are continuing to face financial ruin." 

The tart cherry industry annually contributes millions to Northern Michigan's economy. Utah and Washington state are the other major U.S. producers. President Donald Trump issued a proclamation last year instigating a half-cent tariff per liter on cherry juice imported from Turkey. But cherry growers say much more protection is needed. 

Four Michigan cherry processors — Traverse City's Shoreline Fruit and Cherry Central Cooperative, and Frankfort's Smeltzer Orchard Co. and Graceland Fruit — along with Utah-based Payson Fruit Growers Co-op make up the Dried Tart Cherry Trade Committee that filed the petition through the U.S. Commerce Department and International Trade Commission.

The companies allege Turkey is dumping dried tart cherries into the United States at a margin of up to 648% below fair value because of a wide array of Turkish government subsidies, including grants, loans, investment incentives, tax credits and land provisions. The requested tariff would increase the price of $1 worth of cherries to $6.48.

The processors are asking the ITC to determine that Turkey has injured their business or at least threatens to do so. The commission is expected to take a final vote by mid-January on tariffs.

In September, the commission implemented a nearly 205% duty on imported dried tart cherries to offset government subsidies. It also levied significant tariffs on their exporters to slow the flow of cheap cherries.

In 2018, the United States imported more than $1.2 million in dried tart cherries from Turkey, up 259% from 2016, according to to the International Trade Administration.

Donald Gregory, chairman of the board of Cherry Bay Orchard in Traverse City, which is part of the Dried Tart Cherry Trade Committee, said the fruit is a vital part of the northern Michigan economy that is at risk without tariff protection.

"Any of you that have been to that part of Michigan will know how important tart cherries are to that part of the region," he said. 

"The domestic industry has invested heavily in markets for tart cherries," Gregory continued. "We constantly experiment with infusion methods, then ingredients, drying technologies and other innovations to develop the best product for our customers. We have invested heavily in research and marketing to educate consumers about the benefits of tart cherries, and build demand for them. Unfortunately, imports from Turkey are now reaping the benefits of all those efforts." 

Peters said Michigan farmers like Gregory "should be able to focus on making the world’s best products instead of trying to navigate international trade bureaucracy."

The Bloomfield Township Democrat encouraged the members of the ITC to stand firm in its preliminary determination that Turkish cherry producers have an unfair advantage over Michigan. 

"Turkish tart cherry exporters," he said, "should finally face the stiffest of tariffs for their unfair trade practices that have undermined Michigan cherry growers."

Peters has introduced legislation that would create teams that are focused on studying trade data looking for signs of disturbing trade patterns that might warrant a formal investigation, with an emphasis on cases impacting small and medium-sized businesses.

A bipartisan group of eight members of the Michigan congressional delegation also argued in favor of tariffs to help the Michigan cherry industry in written testimony submitted to the ITC panel ahead of Tuesday's hearing. 

"Michigan has a proud and extensive history of being a leader in the agriculture industry," the lawmakers wrote. "Fruit crops are an especially important part of the state’s economy, and Michigan cherries are known throughout the state and nation – in fact, Traverse City, Michigan is known as the Cherry Capital of the world.  In addition, the five counties located in and around Traverse City are the leading producers of the annual tart cherry crop in the United States."

The testimony was submitted by U.S. Reps. Jack Bergman, R-Watermeet; Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly; Haley Stevens, D-Rochester Hills; Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph; John Moolenaar, R-Midland; Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland; Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, Paul Mitchell, R-Dryden and Dan Kildee, D-Flint. 

klaing@detroitnews.com

(202) 662-8735

Twitter: @Keith_Laing

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