Tester: Chinese trade war brings “cloud of uncertainty” for Montana growers

As Montana farmers prepare for another growing season, they may do so under the cloud of President Donald Trump’s lingering trade war with China, and Sen. Jon Tester fears that many family farms may not survive.

Two weeks ago, Trump raised tariffs on Chinese imports from 10 to 25 percent after trade talks fell apart. China has already retaliated by announcing plans to boost tariffs on nearly $60 billion worth of American goods.

While consumers may feel the pinch on their pocketbooks, farmers and ranchers could be left with another year of uncertainty.

“We need access to those overseas markets to get the best return for our grain, beef, pulses, and everything else we raise,” Tester said Tuesday. “These tariffs have caused commodity prices to fall across the board and have saddled thousands of farms and ranches with uncertainty as we begin what looks to be a pretty good growing season.”

A report from UBS suggests the trade war with China could cause prices to rise on nearly everything, potentially leading to “widespread store closures.” That includes $40 billion in sales, with more than 11,000 stores at risk of failing.

But the trade war goes on behind what’s stocked on retail shelves. In retaliation, China already has placed tariffs on most U.S. ag exports. That hurts Montana producers growing everything from soybeans to wheat.

“If these tariffs cause us to lose permanent access to our international markets, it could be a nail in the coffin for family farms and rural communities,” Tester said. “We have to hold China accountable, but not at the expense of Montana agricultural producers.”

Tester sees progress on Trump’s lifting of tariffs on Canadian and Mexican steel and aluminum. And last week, he said, the administration announced a new bilateral trade deal on beef exports to Japan.

But Tester doesn’t see a long-term plan for dealing with China and it could take years for ag markets and prices to recover, he said.

“It’s clear there’s no real long-term plan that even the president’s own advisers admit American farmers are paying for,” Tester said. “The president must stop using farmers and ranchers as pawns in his trade war. We can’t afford to begin another growing season with this cloud of uncertainty.”