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Opinion: Chinese trade war bad for Missouri farmers

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Last edited 9:25 a.m., April 10, 2018

Missouri’s rural economy could see real harm from the brewing trade war with China. The Chinese government met President Donald Trump’s recent tariffs with retaliation against American agricultural goods.

On March 2, Trump said, “Trade wars are good and easy to win.” He initiated the current conflict in hope of extracting concessions from the Chinese government to gain protections for American companies’ intellectual property, among other things. But China’s initial reaction was to fight back rather than flinch.

Since agriculture is America’s biggest export industry and American farmers hold a special place in the national consciousness, many had long predicted it would face the brunt of any blowback. Unfortunately, if they go into effect, these agricultural tariffs would harm Missouri more heavily than many other states. 

Agriculture is Missouri’s largest industry, producing over $88 billion for Missouri’s economy. Since we are positioned at the crossroads of climatic and geographic zones, Missouri is blessed to raise a wide variety of crops and animals. While this diversification is very good for Missouri’s economic stability, China’s new tariffs are so broad-ranging they will hurt Missouri in many different ways.

China announced new or increased tariffs on pork, soybeans, cotton, corn, wheat, sorghum and beef. Missouri is a top 10 producer in five of these seven commodities, according to 2016 data by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. Only Kansas has more. China’s plan to more than triple tariffs on soybean imports to 35 percent will be among the most impactful on Missouri farmers, along with its new 15 percent tariff on pork imports and 25 percent tariff on cotton.

Soybeans are Missouri’s largest cash crop, at over $7.7 billion in total output. More than half of all soybeans grown in Missouri are exported. Even worse, China dwarfs all other countries for American soybean buyers, purchasing about 60 percent of all U.S. soybean exports. Almost one out of every three rows of soybeans grown in Missouri ends up in China.

Pork already had taken a beating over trade fears, losing almost a third of its market price since the start of the year. The new tariff announcements caused an almost 10 percent drop in hog prices, dealing another huge blow to an already-hobbled industry.

Few realize that Missouri is the seventh-largest cotton producing state, producing over $200 million worth in 2017. China is the top export market for American cotton, using it to produce a huge variety of goods from T-shirts to tablecloths. Missouri’s Bootheel is one of the most productive cotton growing areas in the world, and losing its best customer could be devastating.

Fortunately, we could still avoid this needless and counterproductive trade war. Trump’s proposed tariffs are not scheduled to go into effect until early June. Hopefully, Trump’s negotiation efforts will succeed and he will gain enough concessions to de-escalate this trade war. If not, Missouri’s economy could be in a world of hurt.

Eric Bohl is director of public affairs for Missouri Farm Bureau in Columbia. He can be reached at publicaffairs@mofb.com.

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Warren Gene Campbell

This is a bit of bitter sweet. You all voted for Trump/Grietens. Trump's ego is not a friend of the Farmers. I am a member of Farm Bureau and a believer in the success of farming. These current policies of Trump will only agitate the situation. Time to elect people who will boost Missouri Farmers regardless of whether they are Republican, Democrat or Independent. Check the record, I believe Senator Claire has done much for the farmers.

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