Monday, March 5, 2018

US farmers look for Chinese retaliation after Trump tariffs

Washington--President Donald Trump announced Friday that the US will target steel and aluminum imports from China and other countries with tariffs.

That concerns trade experts who think that China could retaliate putting US ag exports in the crossfire.

Trump wants to sign the order slapping a 25 percent tariff on all imports of steel and a 10 percent duty on aluminum imports, that's in line with recommendations released two weeks ago by the Commerce Department.

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue stressed to the House Ag committee that agriculture is always the first sector to be hurt in trade retaliation and US Ag groups agree.

"This announcement invites retaliation that we are deeply concerned will hurt American farmers,” said Brian Kuehl, executive director of the group Farmers for Free Trade, in reaction to Trump’s announcement. “These tariffs are very likely to accelerate a tit-for-tat approach on trade, putting US agricultural exports in the cross-hairs.”

In a televised meeting with US steel and aluminum executives, the President predicted that US production of the metals would rebound quickly once the tariffs are in place.Trump had earlier said that imports of steel and aluminum were threatening the country's security.

To the US Wheat Associates and the National Association of Wheat Growers, today's announcement is proof that other sectors of the US economy carry more weight in the White House.

“We have repeatedly warned that the risks of retaliation and the precedent set by such a policy have serious potential consequences for agriculture,” the two groups said in a press release. “It is dismaying that the voices of farmers and many other industries were ignored in favor of an industry that is already among the most protected in the country.”

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts reacted angrily to the announcement.

“The president’s announcement on steel and aluminum has the potential to wipe out the significant benefits individuals and businesses have received from our historic tax reform package,” he said. “Like we have seen in the past, American agriculture often pays the price. We need a trade policy that is stable and beneficial to all industries. The announcement today is terribly counterproductive to our economy.”

China knows exactly how important its market is to the U.S. farm economy, USDA's Perdue told reporters last week, and that makes the possibility of retaliation more concerning.

If there is a retaliatory strike by the Chinese, Perdue said the Trump administration is looking at ways to help US agriculture survive a trade war.

The US needs to be prepared with a plan to “mitigate” any harm to farmers from potential retaliation,  said Roberts, but offered no details.

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