Michigan soybean farmer worried about Chinese tariff hikes

Posted at 10:31 PM, Aug 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-01 22:31:57-04

ELSIE, Mich. -- President Donald Trump is doubling down with China; on Wednesday he threatened to more than double tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.

The move has Michigan soybean farmers on edge, worried about an escalating trade war.  Soybeans are Michigan's top food export, and China is America's top buyer, a situation that has a fifth generation farmer worried about the industry's future.

"Some farmers could go out of business," said David Williams, a farmer and president of the Michigan Soybeans Association. "You can't keep doing something that loses money and remain in business for a long period of time."

The Trump administration had previously talked about imposing a 10 percent tariff. Now, the president is considering increasing tariffs to 25 percent.

If China looks elsewhere to buy soybeans, Michigan farmers say it will make their difficult situation even worse. "It's a possibility we might lose the market share that we've had with China and not get it back," Williams said.

"They're a big customer, and it hurts us," Williams continued. "It hurts the family farm, it hurts agriculture, it hurts the state industry."

Soybeans will be harvested in September, and farmers are hoping to have a someone sell them to. Williams says they need new clients, and places like India and Indonesia could become largest new buyers of American soybeans.

"We need to increase the demand from the countries we currently export to, and we need to develop new export markets for our soybeans," Williams said. "If we don't, it's going to really hurt agriculture and the family farm."

The administration has also talked about $12 billion in assistance to farmers affected by tarriffs  but Williams says soybean farmers would prefer long-term contracts over short-term payouts. "The best case scenario would be free trade," he said. "We wouldn't need a handout, and hopefully we could get right back to where we were. But the longer this goes, on the worse off we'll be."

It's not just soybeans that could be affected here in Michigan. The tariff also affects apples and cherries, which are big crops in our state.

Right now the tariff hikes are not set in stone. The Trump administration says it will extend the public comment period on the proposal to September 5 to allow feedback on what tariff rate the White House should use.