Chinese tariffs could affect North Carolina tobacco and pork producers

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A trade war fear is impacting North Carolina tobacco and pig farmers.

Following President Donald Trump's announcement that the United States will place tariffs on certain Chinese imports, China announced this week that dozens of U.S. imports will face 25 percent tariffs.

Two of the most affected markets in North Carolina are tobacco and pork.

Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said that the state exported more than $156 million worth of tobacco and more than $55 million worth of pork to China last year.

"Our number one trading partner in agriculture in North Carolina is China. This amounts to $598 million. That's 20 percent of agricultural exports we do in North Carolina," Troxler said.

Troxler explained the scale of North Carolina exports to China.

"The number one agricultural export from North Carolina to China is tobacco at $156.3 million, and it's quite disappointing that we worked very, very hard to get China tobacco to come to North Carolina and they have become our #1 export destination of tobacco in North Carolina," Troxler said.

When it comes to pork, the Chinese market is particularly interested in what's called "variety meat." That includes organs, ears, and pig's feet, parts that are not as popular in the United States. Those exports help increase the value of each hog being raised.

"Why in the world when we have these trade disagreements that agriculture products seem to end up as the chess pieces in the game that's going on? And in thinking about that, I think it's pretty simple, everybody eats," explained Troxler.

The $55 million of North Carolina pork exports represents just a fraction of the overall U.S. market.

"Last year, U.S. pork exported close to $6.5 billion of pork around the world. Of that, $1.1 billion went to China," explained Jim Monroe, a spokesperson with the National Pork Producers Council.

He said the proposed tariffs presented another obstacle for farmers.

"Obviously we can't be very competitive when we have 25 percent tariffs on top of already existing tariffs," Monroe said.

It's too early to determine if the tariffs would affect prices for consumers, but Troxler doesn't believe that will happen.

He's hopeful ongoing negotiations between the United States and China will lead to more favorable trade conditions.
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