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In tariff fight, as the US braces for more expensive steel, Chinese consumers could face higher prices for fruit and nuts

California growers are cashing in on China's increasing wealth and growing hunger for almonds and other high-quality fruits and nuts that don't grow as well in the Asian nation.
Ng Han Guan | AP
California growers are cashing in on China's increasing wealth and growing hunger for almonds and other high-quality fruits and nuts that don't grow as well in the Asian nation.

As Americans brace for a price increase in anything made from of steel and aluminum, Chinese consumers were preparing to shell out more for fruit and nuts.

China's Commerce Ministry announced Friday that close to 80 fruit and nut products from the United States face higher tariffs, as Beijing prepared to boost duties on as much as $3 billion of U.S. imports. The increase follows President Donald Trump's decision to raise tariffs on Chinese steel and a recent announcement that another round of tariffs are coming on as much as $60 billion in Chinese goods.

"At the end of the day it's us common people who will pay the bill because fruits will become pricier," said one user on China's Weibo social media platform, where the prospects for a U.S.-China trade war ranked as the most read topic Friday.

Trump's decision to boost tariffs on Chinese goods has been widely criticized by business leaders, economists and members of both parties on Capitol Hill. The U.S. trade representative recently noted that some 900,000 American jobs depend on U.S.-China trade.

It remains to be seen how wide the Trump administration will expand its trade offensive. The White House said Thursday that the final list of more than 1,000 categories of goods subject to higher duties will be released in two weeks. The administration contends that the increased tariffs are meant to punish Beijing for what it said are unfair trade practices, including theft of U.S. intellectual property.

So far, the Chinese response has been measured. The few industrial commodities on China's list pose little risk to the growth of the Chinese economy. Ethanol is already taxed at nearly 40 percent. China's demand for imports of U.S. scrap aluminum, another product singled out by Beijing for higher tariffs, will likely soften now that the U.S. has imposed higher tariffs on Chinese aluminum imports.

That leaves a long list of fruits, frozen juices and nuts that have become increasingly popular as Chinese consumers' household incomes have risen in recent decades. The U.S. is a major supplier of apples, cherries, walnuts and almonds, much of which is produced by growers in California, Florida and Michigan.

But those products remain only occasional purchases for many Chinese households. And while the U.S. is a major supplier, China has other sources to turn to.

Higher tariffs also could help Chinese growers of targeted fruits and nuts, who have been expanding production to meet local demand. China has become the world's largest walnut producer, for example, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department.

That could help blunt the economic impact of Beijing's higher tariffs on Chinese households.

"These products all have domestic equivalents," said another Weibo commenter. "This could lift demand!"

— Reuters contributed to this article.

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