Trade war takes US apples off shelves, Italy eyes slot
The pulpy 'delicious red' and 'grand gala' apples from Washington are fast disappearing from Indian shelves.
As the tariff on US apples has been increased from 50% to 70%, importers are selling off consignments in transit and cancelling orders. An importer said he sold a consignment worth Rs 6 crore at Singapore port. For the apples remaining on shop shelves, prices have gone up by at least 15% in the retail market.
India imported a record 7.8 million 40-pound boxes in 2017 and a lesser quantity in 2018. As of June 15, Washington state (the largest apple exporter in the US) has shipped about 2.6 million boxes to India.
Indian importers sold Washington apples for Rs 130-150/kg to retailers, and customers were charged ?160-170/kg. "The prices have risen by Rs 20/kg, and customers are not willing to pay a higher price," importer D Manivannan of D Manivannan & Co said.
Cashing in, Italian apples are trying to gain more ground in India. The encouraging sale of 'red delicious' apple variety from Italy is prompting importers to consider it as a replacement. At present, Italian apples cost Rs 1,500-1,600 per box weighing 14kg, while US apples cost at Rs 2,600-2,700/box for a 20kg box, which is marginally cheaper than Italian apples.
Fruit merchants are also waiting for Indian apples. "In the next two months, Indian apples will start arriving, so I would rather sell this shipment of US apples on transit than spend on storage and higher duty," said Gopi Elangovan of E Elangovan Imports and Exports.
"A premium box of Washington apples costs us between ?2,600 to ?2,700 per box. We usually get a profit of Rs 50-100 per box," he said. "Shipments are down 66.8% compared to 2017-18. The tariff hike will slow down shipments," an official at Washington Apple Commission told TOI.
"The Washington apple industry ships to more than 60 countries and the market disruption (due to this duty hike) may cause some exporters to look for alternative markets. However, India is a very important market, and we hope normal trade will resume soon," the official added.
Washington exports one-third of its fresh apple crop and accounts for 90%-95% of all US apple exports. India is its third biggest export market.