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Risking Mexico Retaliatory Tariffs Would Be Another Blow To U.S. Farmers


President Trump's threat to put tariffs on Mexican goods might make things tough for American farmers. There is concern that Mexico will retaliate with tariffs of its own. That's the worry for U.S. farmers since Mexico is a top market for American meat and crops.

Randy Spronk is a pig farmer in Minnesota. He met with President Trump last month to discuss the so-called farmer bailout designed to offset the pain of earlier tariffs. But things have changed since that meeting, and Spronk told me that all farmers want is a fair shot at selling their goods.

RANDY SPRONK: You know, I think really when it comes to animal agriculture and pork production specifically, we've always been about open and fair markets and open trade. We know that when there's a level playing field and we have an opportunity to be able to compete with other pork producers worldwide, we continue to gain market share because we are good.

When we have tariffs, these retaliatory tariffs, obviously somebody else has an advantage over us. And especially in China here right now, obviously we've got two 25% tariffs that add up to a 50%, along with the 12% that they charge everybody. That's a 62% tariff. Well, that puts us out of the market, makes us uncompetitive.

GONYEA: Well, with this announcement out of the White House, kind of unexpectedly just in the past week, I mean, do you kind of feel like there's a game of chicken going on, and you're caught in the middle?

SPRONK: Well, let's be very realistic. The real issue at first was steel and aluminum tariffs, which the tariffs were put on Mexico. They retaliated against the United States, and our product was at a 20% tariff rate. And really that was worth about $12 per head. And that $12 came out of my and other pork producers' pocket. So that was the first one.

Well, when President Trump lifted that, obviously Mexico lifted them. And so that was elation because all of a sudden they're - again, our product can enter Mexico at the same tariff rate that it had with NAFTA, which was zero, which that's really what we're asking for. And that's exactly what I told the president one-on-one. Solve the issue that you've got with those other products, but get us back our zero tariff entry that we had into those countries, and we can continue to grow our market share.

GONYEA: Sounds like if you could meet with the president again, you would tell him the same thing you told him last time.

SPRONK: That's exactly right. Matter of fact, obviously that was the announcement there, but he was heading to Japan. And in the Oval Office, I said, Mr. President, we need a trade agreement with Japan. We're losing market share there right now because others are entering that market at a lower tariff rate than what we are. Canada is taking our market share that we worked hard to earn. And the longer this goes on, the more harm it is. It's going to be the more difficult force to be able to regain. And so, Mr. President, when you're talking to Abe, please let's get back into have a free trade agreement with Japan.

GONYEA: Is it frustrating though that you would have to tell them the same thing again when you thought less than two weeks ago you had a fix?

SPRONK: Well, compared to me not planting my corn, it's not that frustrating. So - but, you know, I think you've got to be understanding that on the rural playing field that yes, there are other issues. We can be patient. We know that - I would have a tendency to agree that there is unfair trade practices in other areas, and those need to be addressed. To a certain effect, we're getting sideswiped because it's not our product. It is what it is, but I think we need those that - we are true believers in free and fair trade. And so we want that in all sectors of society.

GONYEA: That's Randy Spronk, former president of the National Pork Producers Council. Sir, thank you.

SPRONK: Thank you very much. Have a good day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.