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Trade War With China Could Impact Producers Across Mountain West

China has slapped a tariff on U.S. pork and pork products.
Courtesy of National Pork Board and Pork Checkoff
China has slapped a tariff on U.S. pork and pork products.

The Chinese government has retaliated in what appears to be an escalating trade war. The government says it will slap tariffs on a long list of American goods including pork and fruit, a move that could put producers across the region in a bind.

China buys a lot of American pork. And while Iowa may be this country’s pig-producing colossus, tariffs would hit producers everywhere, including states in the Mountain West like Utah and Colorado.  

“You know, American farmers literally feed the world,” says Joyce Kelly, executive director of the Colorado Pork Producers Council. American pork goes to a long list of countries, though primarily to Canada, Mexico and China.

Kelly says the tariffs will mean that a lot of pork previously destined for China will instead stay here in the U.S., flooding the market and making pork even cheaper than it is already.

“And then basically farms are going to have to evaluate whether or not they’re able to stay in business anymore,” she says.

China’s State Council Tariff Committee put a 25 percent tariff on pork products and 15 percent on fruit, effective immediately. The move has producers like Jarom Jemmett worried.

“When a trade war starts, you never know where it’s going to go or how long it’s going to last or what other industries it’s going to affect,” says Jemmett, who is vice president of J&S Farms in Idaho’s Treasure Valley. He grows things like onions, potatoes, corn and wheat. Those products aren’t targeted by the Chinese tariffs, but Jemmett is nervous about a potential domino effect.

“It may start with pork and apples and then expand into beef, and potatoes and onions,” he says.

In the meantime, says Jemmett, tariffs could drive down the price of pork, which could drive down the price of the corn and wheat that feeds those pigs, which could in turn hurt farms like his.

Jemmett voted for Trump, but he says certain moves by the administration -- from its stance on immigrant labor to starting this trade war -- are making his line of work even tougher than it was before.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. 

Copyright 2020 KUNC. To see more, visit KUNC.

Rae Ellen Bichell is a reporter for NPR's Science Desk. She first came to NPR in 2013 as a Kroc fellow and has since reported Web and radio stories on biomedical research, global health, and basic science. She won a 2016 Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award from the Foundation for Biomedical Research. After graduating from Yale University, she spent two years in Helsinki, Finland, as a freelance reporter and Fulbright grantee.
Rae Ellen Bichell
I cover the Rocky Mountain West, with a focus on land and water management, growth in the expanding west, issues facing the rural west, and western culture and heritage. I joined KUNC in January 2018 as part of a new regional collaboration between stations in Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. Please send along your thoughts/ideas/questions!
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