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Tariffs could hurt Montana ag producers

Posted at 12:42 PM, Apr 05, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-05 14:42:43-04

Leaders with the Montana Department of Agriculture said Wednesday that China’s recently announced tariffs on U.S. goods could affect producers in the state, whether or not they directly export products to China.

“Folks are concerned,” said Ben Thomas, the department’s director. “Montana’s ag economy is the backbone of the state’s economy, and we’re exporting up to 80 percent of our grains. When we see these impacts on our market access, it causes a big concern here in farm country.”

This week, the Chinese government has announced an expanded list of exports that could face additional tariffs, from beef and soybeans to aircraft. The proposed tariffs are a continued response to President Donald Trump’s plan to put new tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from China. Chinese officials said their final decision on the tariffs will depend on what the U.S. eventually does.

Thomas said China is the top market for U.S. agricultural products, receiving more than $20 billion in exports every year.

Thomas said the most serious effect on the state would come if China puts a tariff on wheat. He said Montana wheat farmers don’t export much of what they grow to China, but that any additional barriers to the Chinese market could affect wheat prices nationwide.

The U.S. and China also negotiated an agreement last year to allow American beef exports. Thomas said Montana producers have planned large investments, expecting that new market to open up.

Thomas says the state’s agriculture industry is already facing a number of challenges.

“Right now, we’re seeing very extreme weather conditions – just look over the last year with the drought we’ve had and the winter that has had an impact on our livestock folks,” he said. “You add to that commodity prices have been in poor shape over the last several years. We don’t need these uncertainties with trade; we need that market access, and we need that certainty.”

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