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Worker inspecting almonds Tim Hearden
A worker inspects almonds by hand at a Sacramento Valley processing plant before the nuts are shipped overseas.

Calif. farm groups scramble as trade war escalates

Citrus groups in contacts with USDA over access to Vietnam while almond leaders woo Chinese companies.

California commodity groups and a growers' cooperative are pushing to increase access to their products in China and Vietnam, whose already complicated trade relations with the United States recently suffered new setbacks.

China's announcement this week that the country has stopped buying U.S. agricultural products won't have much impact on California almond exports to the country, because the announcement only applied to state-owned companies but not to privately owned companies operating in China, industry leaders say.

However, Almond Board of California officials have been in discussions with Chinese industry leaders on how to proceed amid the turmoil, insiders say.

Meanwhile, California Citrus Mutual, the California Citrus Quality Council and Valencia, Calif.-based Sunkist Growers are in talks with the USDA over citrus access to Vietnam. An agreement on protocols for allowing citrus into Vietnam has been elusive, as talks have been more cumbersome than anticipated, the USDA says.

In fact, a recent communication from senior USDA policy officials to counterparts in the Vietnamese government indicates that technical discussions have become counterproductive, CCM government affairs director Alyssa Houtby explains in a blog post.

The technical team at USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has been urged to communicate a similar message stating that the last version is the final, she writes.

"Furthermore, it is our recommendation that USDA offers a specified week for field inspections that would be in advance of the (20)19-20 navel orange season thereby creating the export opportunity on a timely basis," Houtby writes.

Houtby asserts the snag may ultimately be a result of the Vietnamese technical team being unaware that a policy agreement had already been reached by senior officials.  Or, it could be that members of the technical team are trying to impress the more senior officials in their government, she argues.

"In any case, bringing the policy officials back to the table was a good move by USDA," she writes.

China's announcement comes as President Donald Trump has threatened another 10 percent n tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese imports starting on Sept. 1. China is threatening new tariffs of its own, in addition to stopping its state-owned firms from buying U.S. ag products.

Tracey Chow, Western Growers' government affairs specialist, writes in a news release that the organization is monitoring the talks.

"WG also works closely with its other specialty crop industry counterparts to share what we’re hearing on the ground and ways to push the administration with a unified voice for our fresh produce members," she writes.

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