Dried tart cherry petition moves forward

Vince Cooper, owner of Farmer White's in Williamsburg, plucks a tart cherry from a branch while walking through his orchard in July 2016.

TRAVERSE CITY — A group of U.S. tart cherry growers is celebrating the unanimous 5-0 decision of the U.S. International Trade Commission to move forward with a petition that alleges imports from Turkey have harmed the U.S. industry.

The June 6 vote is the first official step forward for a petition the Dried Tart Cherry Trade Committee filed in April that asks the federal government to place a substantial anti-dumping and countervailing tariff on dried tart cherries imported from Turkey.

"We wouldn't be spending the money we're spending if we weren't confident we were going to have some results," said Shoreline Fruit's Don Gregory. "Ultimately, if this slows down the amount of imports coming in, it should provide more opportunities for more of our domestic cherries to make it into the marketplace."

"It doesn't solve today's issue entirely, but it's going to keep it from getting worse," Gregory said. "The growth that we've seen has been so exponential in the last several years, coming in, that if it continued at that rate, there wouldn't be a drying industry left after about five years. If we can put a stop to (dumping), that's going to help."

The petition alleges that dried tart cherries from Turkey are being imported into the U.S. at a dumping price margin of 628.9 percent. It alleges that a variety of Turkey government programs support that nation's tart cherry industry, making it possible for importers to bring dried tart cherries into the U.S. at a price far below the cost of production.

"Turkey is buying frozen cherries at $1.10 per pound, taking four pounds of frozen cherries, drying them into one pound of dried cherries, and selling them into the U.S. market at 89 cents per pound," Leelanau cherry farmer Ben LaCross said in May. "To us, that's textbook dumping."

Unfairly priced imports are hurting the U.S. industry, the petition alleges. Much of that damage is being sustained by growers and processors in northwest Lower Michigan. Domestic processors see the petition's goal of import duties as a step forward for the U.S. cherry industry.

"We're pretty confident that sometime this summer, or early this fall, Commerce Department will be announcing what the preliminary tariff rates are," Gregory said.

"Why that's important to us is because at that point, the importers ... have to deposit into escrow accounts. Even though we don't have a final determination at that point, just the fact that people are going to have to start putting dollars up or putting them into an escrow account, that's when we will see the first real slowdown of stuff coming into this country."

Five U.S. processors are named in the petition as filers: Shoreline Fruit LLC of Traverse City, Graceland Fruit Inc. of Frankfort, Cherry Central Cooperative of Traverse City, Smeltzer Orchard Co. of Frankfort, and Payson Fruit Growers Co-op of Payson, Utah. The petition identifies the group as the Dried Tart Cherry Trade Committee.

A final determination by the ITC is scheduled for Jan. 27, 2020.

In between are four Department of Commerce actions. The department is scheduled to file a preliminary determination on a countervailing duty on July 16, followed by a final determination on Sept. 29. It will file a preliminary determination on an anti-dumping duty on Sept. 29, followed by a final determination on Dec. 13. Gregory believes some of those dates could be delayed by information gathering requirements.

"My guess, just because of the way they have to get data in, and then the attorneys all get the chance to respond to the data that comes in on both sides, that's going to end up being pushed back," said Gregory.