India has become major buyer of Modesto-area almonds, walnuts. It just hiked tariffs

India has raised tariffs on U.S. almonds and walnuts, many of them shipped from the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

The increases are not huge, but they do frustrate growers and shippers who have worked toward reducing barriers to world trade.

India, a major buyer of both nuts, imposed the new tariffs last weekend. The action followed the Trump administration’s decision not to renew India’s preferential status in other trade sectors.

The tariff on in-shell almonds will go from 23 to 27 cents per pound. The walnut tariff will rise to 120 percent of the U.S. product price, up from the 100 percent that India levies on these nuts from all sources.

Dave Phippen, an almond grower and processor near Ripon, said India is not one of his company’s main markets, but it does matter to the California industry as a whole. It projects a record 2.5 billion pounds in the August-October harvest.

“We’re going to need every channel and every opportunity to market that crop,” Phippen said.

India has emerged as a top buyer thanks to a growing middle class that sees the health benefits of eating almonds, he said.

India’s latest action applies to 28 products from the United States. They include apples, pears, chickpeas, lentils and certain chemical and steel items.

The total at stake is far less than in the trade battle with China, but the latest tariffs do have impacts on the Valley. California producers sold $658 million worth of almonds and $62 million worth of walnuts to India in 2017, the state Department of Food and Agriculture reported. The nation was the seventh-largest market for all of the state’s farm exports, which totaled $20.5 billion.

“All countries involved in a trade war lose,” said Gökçe Soydemir, the Foster Farms endowed professor of business economics at California State University, Stanislaus. “It’s not one gaining at the expense of others.”

The state’s walnut industry was slower than almonds to build the India market, but it has come on strong in recent years even with the 100 percent tariff.

“It certainly has been one of the bright spots, and we see a lot of potential,” said John Mundt, owner of Alpine Pacific Nut Co. near Hughson.

Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, said in a news release Tuesday that the India tariffs show the continuing failure of President Donald Trump’s approach.

“This trade war has to end,” Harder said. “The president is shooting from the hip on his trade policy, and it’s Central Valley almond farmers that are left holding the bag.”

John Holland covers breaking news and has been with The Modesto Bee since 2000. He has covered agriculture for the Bee and at newspapers in Sonora and Visalia. He was born and raised in San Francisco and has a journalism degree from UC Berkeley.