The largest processor of hazelnuts in the US says the industry is feeling the pinch of the US-China trade standoff.
“It’s really hurting farmers here, and it’s breaking down long-term relationships between us and China, and our customers there, so we are being forced to look to other places for customers, and honestly the relationships we have with the Chinese buyers are so important,” Larry George, president of George Packing Company Hazelnuts, the largest processor and marketer of hazelnuts in the US, told China Daily.
Oregon’s hazelnut growers export 60 percent of their crop, and more than 90 percent of the flavorful nuts are shipped to China.
George was one of many Chinese and American government officials and business representatives attending the ninth annual Oregon-China Economic Forum on Friday.
Organized by the Oregon China Council, the gathering celebrated the 40th anniversary of the establishment of US-China diplomatic relations, as well as The Beaver State’s 35th sister-state anniversary with Fujian province, and its fifth sister-state and municipality anniversary with Tianjin.
Despite some of the difficulties arising from the trade dispute, Oregon is one of the few US states enjoying a trade surplus with China.
Several high-level officials stressed the importance of the China-Oregon trade relationship in their keynote speeches.
“I think the Oregon-China relationship as it comes to trade is a very important one in helping to maintain sustainability, peace and success for both of our peoples,” said Richard Vial, Oregon deputy secretary of state.
Vial, whose Chinese daughter-in-law served as his translator during his speech, stressed how communication transcends cultural barriers, prevents misunderstanding and fosters people-to-people exchanges.
“This is what trade does for two countries and two peoples. It brings people together in ways that allow us to get to know one another, and in the process, we come to appreciate just how much alike we really are,” he said.
Mae Yih, a former member of both houses of the Oregon Legislature, who helped facilitate the Oregon-Fujian sister-state agreement, emphasized the importance of building trust and personal contacts.
“During my time in the Oregon Legislature, I organized many legislative leadership, friendship and trade missions to China because I knew that personal contacts were essential in increasing understanding, friendship, trust, trade and mutual prosperity,” she said.
Chinese Consul General Wang Donghua in San Francisco reminded attendees of the unique economic interdependence between the US and China.
In 2018, the value of US-China trade reached $659.8 billion. Two-way investment between the two countries exceeded $230 billion at the end of last year, the consul general said.
Chinese visitors to the United States, who totaled 2.9 million in 2018, spent $36 billion traveling in the US. There are currently around 400,000 Chinese students in the US, and together they contribute around $18 billion to local economies.
“History tells us that China and the US are important partners, rather than adversaries,” Wang said.
According to the US Trade Representative’s Office, China is Oregon’s largest export market. Oregon exported $4.8 billion in goods to China in 2018, representing 21 percent of the state’s total goods exported.
Exports from the state to China jumped 52 percent from 2008 to 2017. Oregon’s exports to China supported 31,200 American jobs in 2016, the US-China Business Council reported.
Although Oregon’s top exports to China were electric products and computer components, it is also the US’ 24th largest agricultural-exporting state, shipping $1.9 billion in agricultural products in 2017.
Some cattle farmers in the Northwest state also expressed their desire in accessing the Chinese market.
“We work with the US Meat Export Federation, the Oregon Department of Agriculture and others to assist with export-market access and development for Oregon and US beef. So I have been interested in the China market, and it is open now, so it should have long-term growth potential,” said William M. Wise, chief executive officer of the Oregon Beef Council.
Although no specific collaboration projects currently exist between Qingdao and Oregon, the state complements Qingdao’s industrial structure in the fields of aerospace, high-technology and resource development, she said. The outlook for potential collaboration between the two regions is promising.
“Since last year, I have attended a number of conferences in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. I feel the strong will of the state governments to collaborate with China,” said Lyu Kun, chief representative of the Qingdao Center for Business & Commerce (USA), echoed that statement.
Michael Richards, bulk and breakbulk marketing manager for the Port of Portland, sees bright prospects for the US-China relationship, noting that the connection the two countries previously built through “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” and “Panda Diplomacy” remains strong.
“I think these trade issues that we are having now are short term, and as long as we do maintain the business and the personal relationships, with the spirit of time, we will continue to have a strong relationship,” he told China Daily.