ST. PAUL — Minnesota farmers and manufacturers on the front lines of ongoing U.S. trade wars on Wednesday, Nov. 6, put a number to the financial damage to their businesses inflicted by U.S. tariffs on imports and split on the best path to eliminating them.
Executives from two Minnesota manufacturing companies as well as two farmers said tariffs on Chinese imports and retaliatory tariffs placed on exported Minnesota goods had hit their bottom lines. And they called for an end to the taxes on imports and retaliatory tariffs on exports as part of ongoing trade deals.
Since the trade wars began more than a year and a half ago, Minnesota businesses have paid an additional $632 million due to the import tariffs, according to a tariff tracker from the Tariffs Hurt the Heartland campaign. And of that, $60 million came in August alone.
The campaign and the Trade Partnership derive that figure from import and export data published by the U.S. Census Bureau as well as export data from the U.S Department of Agriculture. The figures run through September and are the most recent available.
Minnesota manufacturers and farmers that export their goods also faced another hurdle as other countries placed $343 million in retaliatory tariffs on American goods. Taken together, the tax burdens have hit hard, Dan Digre, CEO of MISCO Speaker Company, said.
"This is real money that adds up for a small business," Digre said. "It doesn't make sense for us to pay a 25% tariff on a product we can't even get in the US."
While competitors in the speaker industry opted to move their manufacturing offshore to save money, Digre's 70-year old family business stayed in Minnesota. And in the last 18 months, that's meant the company has to pay the 25% tariff on a part it imports from China, one that isn't currently made in the United States.
The panel of Minnesotans hit by the trade war gathered in the MISCO warehouse to urge the Trump administration to negotiate trade deals that could end the tariffs.
White House trade officials have been in closed-door negotiations with the Chinese for months and Congress has lagged in ratifying a new trade agreement set to replace NAFTA. Democrats, along with some farm and labor groups, have raised concerns about the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement in its treatment of workers' rights, prescription drugs and environmental provisions.
As the efforts to advance those deals continue, farmers need to keep making the case for themselves and highlighting the pain the tariffs are causing, Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap said.
“Nobody’s in the 'give up' phase but we’re running out of time,” Paap said. “We have got to have something we can move forward with.”
Paap, Digre and others said they'd reached out to elected officials daily to strike a deal and drop the tariffs, or at least to consider pulling certain products from the categories hit by the additional taxes.
But another farmer at the discussion said the only way to resolve the trade issues was to vote a new administration into office.
"I think there's two simple words what we can do," Mark Brown, a St. James farmer and treasurer for Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, said, noting he was a Republican. "I think dump Trump is what we need to do. It's driven from the top on down, tariffs, and it's not good for our country. It's terrible."
But Digre warned that voting out the president wouldn't prevent another administration or official from pursuing tariffs in the future.
“It doesn’t matter necessarily what happens next November if whoever is in the White House or whoever is in the USTR believes that tariffs are the right way to negotiate a trade deal,” Digre said. “That’s why I think we need to keep talking about it and letting everybody know what a serious problem this is.”