ABC12: State agriculture leaders concerned about steel tariffs

FRANKENMUTH (WJRT) - (03/09/18) - The recently announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imports have left some industries on pins and needles.

President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered new tariffs on foreign-made steel and aluminum imports that will take effect in 15 days.

In Michigan there is concern about how those tariffs could have a ripple effect on growers and consumers.

After the United States, Mexico is the biggest consumer of Michigan dry beans.

"Our customers down there are ready to buy some of our product but they're uncertain as to what their total cost is going to be so they're nervous about entering into an agreement with any of the processors in the state until they really know where the dust settles and what their cost is going to be," said Joe Cramer, executive director of the Michigan Bean Commission in Frankenmuth.

The Agricultural Leaders of Michigan are concerned the tariffs could lead to retaliation against agricultural products that would hurt Michigan agriculture.

The coalition of agricultural, commodity and agribusiness leaders said Michigan agriculture exports more than $3 billion in agriculture products around the world every year.

In addition, China buys more soybeans from the U.S. than all other U.S. customers combined, accounting for $14 billion in sales and more than a third of total U.S. soybean production. 

In retaliation any country could choose to impose new tariffs on U.S. products, including products from Michigan.

"It's possible to impose tariffs on our products going in to Mexico or our product going in to Canada," Cramer said.

Cramer said the timing is tough too. 

"We throw the tariff discussion in the middle of the NAFTA discussion and we are really up in the air in terms of wondering where we are going to land when everything shakes out," he said. "I think our biggest unknown is the timetable, so if we could get to the end and know what the rules are, we'll figure out how to play within the rules and make the best of it."

It's not just growers who might be impacted. 

Many of Michigan's beans end up in cans. If the price of foreign-made steel or aluminum goes up, consumers could pay the price.

"There's a ripple, there's a domino effect that comes back to the store shelf. Ultimately I think the consumer pays for the tariff," Cramer said.

The Agricultural Leaders of Michigan also released this statement: 

"Trade agreements forged in partnership with our neighbors and global partners have exponentially increased U.S. agricultural exports in recent years and created an agricultural trade surplus that is directly responsible for thousands of Michigan and U.S. jobs. We cannot afford a trade war. We urge the administration to reconsider the policy announced today and take into account the likelihood of retaliatory tariffs on agricultural products grown and produced in Michigan and around the nation."

The statement was signed by:

Dave Armstrong, president and CEO, GreenStone Farm Credit Services

Jim Byrum, president, Michigan Agri-Business Association

Gail Frahm, executive director, Michigan Soybean Association

Mary Kelpinski, CEO, Michigan Pork Producers Association

Ken Nobis, president, Michigan Milk Producers Association