2018-06-19-News-Farm Silos-1.jpg

Two silos sit on a farm on a rainy Tuesday morning near Amsterdam-Churchill. Farm groups in Montana said President Donald Trump’s proposed tariffs on China imports are causing an uncertainty in the agriculture market that could result in buyers going to other countries.

Farm groups in Montana said President Donald Trump’s proposed tariffs on China imports are causing an uncertainty in the agriculture market that could result in buyers going to other countries for products.

Trump has ordered 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods that is slated to take effect on July 6, according to the Associated Press. In response, China has matched the tariff on American imported goods to the country, which takes aim at the agriculture industry, among others.

Cassidy Marn, trade and marketing manager with the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee, said China has a quota that allows it to import wheat at a certain price and Marn said the country prefers Montana wheat because of its quality.

Because of that, the Chinese market has huge potential, she said. But if the proposed tariffs are imposed, Marn said Canada and Australia would likely be able to provide the product for cheaper.

“Losing that foot in the door completely could be very damaging,” Marn said.

Lola Raska, executive vice president of Montana Grain Growers Association, agreed that as the “tariff war” heats up, doing business with the U.S. would be more expensive. Raska said countries that buy Montana’s wheat will go elsewhere for the product and, once that happens, it will be hard to convince buyers to come back to the American market.

“Once they start to change some of those recipes and milling procedures, it’s very hard to go back,” Raska said. “And that’s what we’re fearful of.”

She compared the back-and-forth tariff proposals between the U.S. and China to getting whiplash and said agreements and changes in foreign trade usually come slowly, but things are changing on a daily basis. Because of that, Raska said she’s had conversations with buyers from China to reassure them that Montana still wants to trade with them.

“We’re not comfortable at all just because it’s so uncertain,” she said. “You just don’t know from one day to the next.”

Lyndsay Bruno, communications director for Montana Farmers Union, said the union shared concerns with other farming groups. But, she said there is a distinction between free trade and fair trade, and the union has always advocated for fair trade and making sure farmers and ranchers get the right price for their products.

“That is something the administration is pursuing, and we’re encouraged by that,” Bruno said.

Vince Smith, professor of economics at Montana State University, said in its current form the farm bill, which recently passed out of U.S. Senate and House committees, would help offset some of the costs if tariffs are imposed. The farm bill pays for things like crop insurance and subsidizes farmers in case commodity prices don’t meet expectations. However, Smith said that no safety net has been proposed if impacts are bigger than what the farm bill is able to pay farmers and ranchers.

“The impacts would likely be modest, particularly for wheat, but we don’t know how extensively the tariffs would be applied by different countries,” Smith said.

The Trump administration has said that a tariff on goods from China is necessary to prevent the country from violating international trade rules like stealing American technology and jobs. But China officials have countered the president’s proposal with a tariff on American goods like beef and wheat, among others.

Freddy Monares can be reached at 406-582-2630, or by email at fmonares@dailychronicle.com.

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