Montana delegation leery of broad tariffs, escalating trade war with key U.S. partners

National flags of U.S. and China wave in front of an international hotel in Beijing February 4, 2010. (REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Montana exported more than $685 million to Canada last year, making the state’s northern neighbor its largest international trading partner. China was third at $250 million.

But recent tariffs imposed by the White House are testing those relationships and raising concerns from Montana’s congressional delegation.

“This escalating trade war is threatening Montana farmers and ranchers by creating uncertainty,” Sen. Jon Tester told the Missoula Current on Friday. “It’s driving up prices for builders, businesses and even families at the grocery store. I will work Republicans and Democrats to defend Montana from harmful retaliatory tariffs that undercut our state’s No. 1 industry and force folks to pay more money for everyday goods.”

Tariffs placed on China could impact the state’s beef industry, which has long viewed China for its market opportunities. Soybeans and other agricultural products could also fall into the cross hairs.

Tariffs placed on Canada last month have already impacted Montana industries that source steel and aluminum products, from piping for the energy sector to cans used by Montana breweries.

“Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that almost 11,000 industries use steel and aluminum,” said Emilie Ritter Saunders, communications director with the Montana Department of Commerce. “I think of auto makers, beer and soda companies, aircraft manufacturers, energy and construction industries – all of those industries here in Montana.”

Last month, the White House imposed a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imported from the country’s top trading partners, including Canada, Europe and Mexico.

On Friday, President Donald Trump followed by announcing a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports. If China retaliates as Canada did, it will likely harm Montana manufactures and drive up the cost of products produced in the state.

“I am glad we have a president who is standing up to China,” Sen. Steve Daines told the Missoula Current. “But we must maintain a careful balance to make sure Montana farmers and ranchers are not harmed, as agriculture is often the first industry targeted in any trade dispute. I have taken their concerns to the president and will continue to make sure their voices are heard at the table.”

Trump has accused China of stealing intellectual property, which threatens the nation’s economic and national security. In response on Friday, China said it will cancel a deal to purchase more American farm goods, including soybeans and beef.

“No one wins with a trade war, especially Montana ag,” said Rep. Greg Gianforte. “When necessary, we should use narrowly tailored tariffs to level the playing field with countries who use unfair trade practices against America. Broad tariffs, though, can lead to a wide-ranging trade war in which Montana loses. I appreciate the president’s efforts to bring free and fair trade with China, and I’ll continue working with his administration to protect Montana farmers and ranchers from retaliatory tariffs.”

White House tariffs placed on Canadian steel, aluminum hitting Montana manufactures