Wal-Mart, so often demonized for importing low-cost Chinese goods to the U.S., has a different face in China. It imports relatively high-priced...

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Wal-Mart, so often demonized for importing low-cost Chinese goods to the U.S., has a different face in China. It imports relatively high-priced U.S. goods, such as Washington apples, for increasingly affluent Chinese.

Last year, mainland China bought six times as many apples from Washington as the year before. Hong Kong purchases jumped 26 percent.

“When we have more supermarkets, that plays to our strengths,” said Dave Carlson, president of the Washington Apple Commission. Supermarkets stock more varieties and display them better than in traditional street markets.

It’s an example of how China’s entry into the World Trade Organization is cracking open the border.

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Under WTO rules, China must admit foreign goods, services and stores such as Wal-Mart. Though China is behind on implementing the agreements, effects already are visible.

Last year, China bought more than $159 million worth of state wheat and other grains. The year before, it bought virtually none, because it had a big harvest and its market was more closed, says Tom Mick, chief executive of the Washington Wheat Commission.

Carlson says apple sales should keep rising, but he and Mick are concerned about competition.

Chinese apples are kept out of the U.S. market because of disease issues. But juice concentrate, which is imported, has driven down the price of U.S. juice apples to a tenth of what they were.

Similarly, U.S. textile and garment industries are suffering from a flood of Chinese imports that a quota system had kept at bay. Talks aimed at easing the imports ended without agreement last week.

As the world’s largest wheat and apple producer, China is “both an opportunity and threat,” Carlson said. “Which one will win out is very difficult to tell.”

Top exporters to China
Washington ranks third among states in selling goods to China, after California and Texas. With a smaller population than either of those states, Washington ranks tops in exports to China per capita. (In millions of dollars)
2003 2004 Percent Change
California $5,465 $6,842 25.2%
Texas 3,060 4,456 45.6
Washington 3,211 3,094 -3.6
Louisiana 2,117 2,194 3.6
New York 1,445 1,877 29.9
Tennessee 636 1,214 90.8
Ohio 644 964 49.7
Illinois 794 923 16.2
Massachusetts 572 875 53.0
Georgia 644 801 24.4
Source: Commerce Department