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'We are in a trade war," ND trade leader says as US, China swap tariffs

BISMARCK — China slapped tariffs on American goods early Friday, July 6, ramping up concerns over international trade in North Dakota.

The penalties came in response to $34 billion worth of tariffs the Trump administration placed on Chinese products. The New York Times reported that China's list included soybeans, a major North Dakota export.

After months of threats between the two countries, Friday's tariffs are the first to actually go into effect, said North Dakota Trade Office Executive Director Simon Wilson.

"We are in a trade war," he said.

The tariffs will make trade more expensive and complicated, and consumers will end up paying a price, Wilson said. He hopes the dispute is resolved before it escalates further.

"From here, you've got to be really on your game and really talking to the marketing people that you're working with, make sure you're fully informed of what's going to happen," Wilson said.

Wilson estimated that $1.4 billion to $1.8 billion in North Dakota soybeans are exported to China annually.

Nancy Johnson, executive director of the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association, said prices have dropped in the past month, but "we typically are not selling a large number of soybeans at this time of the year."

Doug Goehring, the Republican state agriculture commissioner, said the Chinese tariffs are causing some anxiety, but he advocated taking a "deep breath."

"I've watched for too many years ... how we always end up taking the brunt of most trade deals," he said.

But in a roundtable discussion with agricultural officials Thursday in Mandan, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., highlighted further uncertainty caused by the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

"I don't see this ending well," she said. "But I could be surprised."

Still, Heitkamp said "no one should be surprised by this" because "this is what (President Donald Trump) said he was going to do."

Trump won North Dakota with 63 percent of the vote in 2016. In a Fargo rally last week aiming to boost Heitkamp's Republican challenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer, Trump said he was seeking "fair and reciprocal" trade relations.

Cramer, in a statement, signaled opposition to using "tariffs as a good long-term tool for our agriculture producers and manufacturers." But he commended Trump for directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to give farmers "a safety net during this short-term uncertainty."

"I stay committed to working closely with the administration on fixing the bigger problem posed by China," Cramer added.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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