N.M. farmers unsure how $12 billion tariff relief will impact business

July 28, 2018

It’s still a question mark how much New Mexico farmers and ranchers will benefit from a $12 billion relief package, created by the Trump administration because they can’t see their products to certain foreign countries.

The short-term measure is aimed at helping farmers and ranchers weather retaliatory tariffs imposed on the United States by Mexico, China and other countries. It comes through the Commodity Credit Corporation — a program that dates to the Great Depression.

The government plans to buy surplus beef, rice, milk and other products for food banks and pay farmers and ranchers coping with “disrupted markets.”

New Mexico Agriculture Secretary Jeff Witte said he’s heard no details yet on how the program will play out in the state.

“The details will be rolling out in the near future,” Witte said this week.

He said he expected dairy and pecan farmers in particular to be compensated for the business they lose in foreign markets because of retaliatory tariffs. He said he expected long-term gain from the “tariff game” despite the short-term pain.

“We’re still hopeful at the end of the day that this program is a very short-term mitigation and in the long term we get relief that’s permanent,” Witte said. “There’s a lot of give and take that has to take place.”

Georgia, New Mexico and Arizona are the chief U.S. pecan producers. Hong Kong, a territory of China; Vietnam; and Mexico are top importers of unshelled U.S. pecans, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

The New Mexico dairy industry ranks among the top 10 U.S. dairy exporting states, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Agricultural interests elsewhere outweigh those in New Mexico, said Jay B. Glover, owner of a small pecan farm near Tularosa.

“These pecans are barely a blip on the radar,” he said. “The sorghum and soybean guys are getting really hurt over the tariffs with China.”

New Mexico producers are looking for more information on possible compensation, said Ned Adriance, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M.

“I am skeptical that a scattered, ad hoc payment system like this can compensate all the New Mexicans and Americans who will be hurt by President Trump’s chaotic and counterproductive trade war,” Udall said in an email Wednesday. “I will fight for New Mexico farmers and ranchers to get their fair share of any compensation, but when I visit with farmers and ranchers, they tell me they want access to markets and growth opportunities, not bailouts from Washington designed to mitigate the damage of the president’s own haphazard trade policies.”

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., also criticized the aid plan.

“President Trump has done real economic damage to farm country with no strategy for how to get ‘a better trade deal’ and now he wants to use a taxpayer funded bailout to blunt the worst of the economic damage he caused,” Heinrich said in an email Wednesday.

Glover said he was on board with the president’s agenda, but only for so long.

“Leveling the international trading field is necessary,” he said. “I’m OK with a temporary personal hit but if this drags out I’ll be a bit disillusioned.”

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