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Trade Spat Could Hurt Wisconsin Specialty Crop

16:34PM Apr 02, 2018
Ginseng

Ginseng, a root used for herbal remedies, is popular in Asian. 140 farm families grow this crop in Marathon County, Wisconsin. (2016)( Ginseng Board of Wisconsin )

WASHINGTON (AP) - First, the United States imposed a tax on Chinese steel and aluminum. Then, China counterpunched Monday with tariffs on a host of U.S. products, including apples, pork and ginseng.

On Wall Street, the stock market buckled on the prospect of an all-out trade war between the world's two biggest economies. But it hasn't come to that - not yet, anyway.

"We're in a trade slap-fight right now," not a trade war, said Derek Scissors, resident scholar and China specialist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

The $3 billion in U.S. products that Beijing targeted Monday amount to barely 2 percent of American goods exported to China.

Even if China's tariffs don't have a huge impact on America's $20 trillion economy, they will bring pain to specific communities.

Take Marathon County in Wisconsin, where 140 local families grow ginseng, a root that is used in herbal remedies and is popular in Asia. Around $30 million - or 85 percent - of the area's ginseng production went to China as exports or gifts. The county, which gave Trump nearly 57 percent of its vote in 2016, holds an international ginseng festival in September, crowning a Ginseng Queen and drawing visitors from China and Taiwan.

China's new 15 percent tariff on ginseng is "definitely going to hit the growers hard if this happens," said Jackie Fett, executive director of the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin. "It is the livelihood of many people. ... We're still holding on to a little bit of hope" that the tariffs can be reversed.

Jim Schumacher, co-owner of Schumacher Ginseng in Marathon, Wisconsin, said the 15 percent tax will hurt: "You've got to be price-competitive, even if you have the top-quality product. We're definitely concerned. We hope something can be resolved."

If the dispute escalates, China can pick more vulnerable targets. In the year that ended last Aug. 31, America's soybean farmers, for instance, sent $12.4 billion worth of soybeans to China. That was 57 percent of total U.S. soybean exports.

Brent Bible, a soybean and corn farmer in Lafayette, Indiana, has appeared in TV ads by the advocacy group Farmers for Free Trade, calling on the Trump administration to avoid a trade war.

"We're kind of caught in the crossfire," he said.

 

Copyright 2018, Associated Press