2018-04-16 / Opinion

China tariff threat concerns local farmers

China’s latest trade actions in response to U.S. tariffs are striking right at the heart of Trump country.

Just the mere mention of the threat to slap tariffs on key U.S. exports threatens to further upend a farm economy already suffering from low prices. It also risks further alienating an important base that has long been frustrated with the administration’s trade policies.

Sanilac County farmers preparing to plant soybeans this season are now facing the prospect of losing money on their crops before they put their seeds in the ground, after China recently announced that it would retaliate with 25 percent tariffs on dozens of farm products if the U.S. carries through with its 25-percent levy on Chinese imports.

Trump administration officials have dismissed concerns about harm to the American economy from the escalating tit-for-tat trade war, but farming communities are already feeling the effects.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue was in Michigan two weeks ago to tour a new pork processing plant near Coldwater. He said President Trump will not allow farmers “to bear the brunt” of a possible trade war with China. Perdue suggested the Trump administration might consider economic “mitigation efforts” to aid Sanilac County farmers should relations with China continue to harden. He did not specify what form those efforts might take and said the White House plans to wait and see before making any moves.

Tariff is the buzzword of the week, and rightfully so. A tariff on soybeans, should it happen, would have major consequences on the livelihood of many Sanilac County-area farmers whose soybean crops have historically been bound for overseas destinations.

China, the largest buyer of U.S. soybeans, announced the tariff in response to U.S. tariffs on aluminum and steel imports. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce said implementation of the new tariff would depend on U.S. negotiations. The Chinese tariff is meant to target products from states, including Michigan that supported President Trump in the last election.

The Michigan Soybean Association was quick last week to report the crucial importance of trade with China, the leading buyer of U.S. soybeans, and is urging leaders from both the U.S. and China to return to the negotiating table and resolve differences without escalating the current trade dispute.

The ag-business community in Sanilac County and across Michigan is not interested in seeing the United States enter into a trade war with China, particularly if it draws in other nations as well. The tariffs announced by China, if implemented, will lead to money lost for farmers that they won’t be able to reinvest in their farms or spend at local equipment and automobile dealers and restaurants.

It’s important that all countries trade fairly. China for decades has dumped state-subsidized steel and aluminum into the United States driving down domestic prices and put tens of thousands of iron workers out of work. We hope the trade disputes will be resolved, but patience over the administration’s trade policy is wearing thin.

For many farmers real money is on the line. The last four years have been tough as they’ve been near the break-even point as prices go. Farmers until now have extended Trump the benefit of the doubt over his unilateral decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership or renegotiate NAFTA, but their futures can’t be put in limbo while Trump plays a highstakes game of chicken with China.

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