Earlier this year, President Trump made good on his promise to work to cut the national trade deficit. (In a nutshell, the trade deficit refers to the difference between the amount of international imports vs. American exports of commodities and goods.) In January, the president started issuing tariffs on imported products and raw materials that were directly competing with American-made goods and forcing prices lower in the US market.
To Trump and a lot of other conservative lawmakers, if the US is importing more than we’re exporting, we're getting unfairly played. As the New York Times reflected in an analysis of Trump’s trade stance back in 2016, the fact that we import more product from both Mexico and China than we export to those countries could be seen as evidence of “diminishing American greatness.” To rectify that (and, you know, make America great again or whatever), 2018 has become the year of the import tariff, which will supposedly bring back our erstwhile glory days of domestic manufacturing.
That seemed like a foregone conclusion for a lot of Trump voters in 2016, but less than two years later, several industries based in the reddest of states are feeling some not-so-great effects of what have come to be known—in a not-so-subtly terrifying way—as Trump’s “trade wars.” Some tariffs on competitive products, like washing machines, are functioning as they’re intended to do for their industry. But as a few political analysts have noted, the first and biggest industries that are expected to take big blows in this tit-for-tat retaliatory trade war will be agriculture and the food-and-beverage industry.
Some of these effects might trickle down the supply chain and be passed on to you, the consumer, in the grocery store. But as news of new tariffs trickles out of the West Wing, some of America's trade partners are threatening their own retaliatory actions to hit American producers and consumers where it hurts—in our bank accounts.
It’s hard to keep track of the deluge of stories about which industries are suffering under these regulations, so we offer you a brief primer on which foods and crops are in the cross hairs of Trump’s trade wars, and what it could mean to you.
China alone purchases roughly 60 percent of America's production of soybeans every year, with value amounting to somewhere between $12 and $14 billion. When Trump’s $38 billion worth of tariffs against Chinese goods went into effect on July 6, China announced it would cancel its purchases of 366,000 metric tons of US soybeans, stocking up instead on product from Brazil. China also plans to purchase less soybeans from the US in 2019, according to the USDA. China can’t outright cut off its American supplier just yet, as its oil and animal feed industries couldn’t meet demand without it. Casual consumers might not care too much about the national soybean market, but it’s a $22 billion industry in the US, accounting for about 16 percent of all agricultural profits. That’s a lot of beans—and a lot of business—lost to American farmers.
Cheese and Dairy
Milk sales in the US are already at historic lows, and the dairy industry is going to great lengths, with the help of the government, to find ways to make use of their excess product, including incentivizing chains such as Domino’s to buy cheap domestic cheese to heap on their pizzas. In response to the July 6 tariffs, China announced its own tariffs on imported cheese and whey products from the US. Mexico, in response to tariffs the Trump administration put on steel and aluminum from our neighbors to the south, placed levies as high as 25 percent on US cheese.
Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum have a wide-ranging effect on dozens of industries, and while the rising price of the steel used in making lobster traps is putting a strain on one of New England’s strongest fishing industries, China’s threat to impose tariffs on American lobster imports is posing a double-whammy to an already struggling business.
Last month, when the administration announced its steel and aluminum tariffs, the European Union responded with a 25 percent import duty on American whiskeys. Domestic craft distilling is a growing industry in the US, and looking abroad for other brown-liquor consumers is a natural next stage of growth. Lots of political commenters noted that bourbon, America's iconic whiskey, comes from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's home state of Kentucky as a symbolic prodding to the lawmaker to defend his constituents’ homegrown industry.
Do you like your beer in cans? Sorry! Trump’s 10 percent aluminum tariffs have the cost of the metal on the rise, and it’s definitely going to make your microbrew IPA that much more expensive. (Not to mention the 25 percent increase in the price of all that expensive brewing equipment.) Last month, a legion of craft brewing industry advocates descended on DC to urge their lawmakers to oppose Trump’s decision. According to an op-ed published by the Beer Institute, an industry trade blog, the aluminum tariffs affect up to 62 percent of all the beer made and sold in the US.
They might seem like a small thing in the grand scheme of our national economy, but to Wisconsin, which exported about $127 million worth of cranberries to Europe last year, the EU’s retaliatory tariffs on the product are putting an industry—also notably a large portion of which hails from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s constituency—at risk. While raw cranberries and processed canned products were declared safe from the tariffs a few months ago, cranberry juice is still on the chopping block as of June.
Pork, along with a whole host of other livestock and poultry animals, is included in China’s counter-tariffs as of Friday, which is a pretty big deal since China is the US pork industry’s second-largest export market, consuming up to $1.1 billion worth of our pork annually, according to the National Pork Producers Council.
There are many other industries under threat from China, Mexico, the EU, and other US trading partners around the world, and things are likely going to get worse in the short term for American producers. Yet, many Big Ag groups are still believers in Trump's long-term strategy to fix the US' export markets. In the mean time, the extent of the damage inflicted on small farmers remains to be seen.