A tariff that has hampered sales of Washington fruit to Mexico is on its way out.
An agreement announced by U.S. and Mexican trade officials Wednesday will see 20 percent tariffs on apples, cherries, pears and apricots reduced almost immediately. The remainder will come off by fall when the first Mexican commercial trucking company should be approved to participate in the program, just in time for the 2011 apple harvest.
Mexico has committed to removing half of the tariff by Friday, industry and congressional officials said.
Mexico imposed the tariffs in 2009 as part of a long-standing dispute over cross-border commercial truck traffic. The duties have cost Northwest fruit growers tens of millions of dollars.
Threats still surround to the agreement, which was announced in Mexico City. The powerful Teamsters Union has vowed to fight the deal and some members of Congress may seek to strip funding for truck and driver inspection and certification.
Fruit industry representatives focused on the positive side of the news, calling the agreement good for growers and for Mexican consumers.
Mexico is the state's largest apple export market, accounting for more than 10 million boxes annually. The 20 percent tariff imposed on apples in 2010 has cost growers an estimated $44 million annually.
Losses to the pear, cherry and apricot industries are estimated at $30 million since those products were first subjected to the tariff in 2009, according to estimates provided by the Northwest Horticultural Council. The council represents Northwest growers on trade and regulatory issues.
Fruits, vegetables and a wide variety of other ag products were caught in the crossfire, which centered on a provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The trade agreement called for the United States to allow Mexican trucking firms to make deliveries in the United States.
Obama administration officials, including Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who signed the agreement, said a number of safeguards are in place once Mexican trucks enter the country.