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New tariffs could hurt Utah agriculture, food industries, other exports

The Trump administration's clampdown on Mexican steel imports could hurt the agriculture and food industry in Utah.
The Trump administration's clampdown on Mexican steel imports could hurt the agriculture and food industry in Utah.
Christopher Boswell, Adobe Stock

SALT LAKE CITY — The Trump administration's clampdown on Mexican steel imports could hurt the agriculture and food industry in Utah.

Mexico raised tariffs on U.S. agriculture and steel products Friday in response to President Donald Trump imposing new tariffs on Mexico, Canada and European Union aluminum and steel imports. Mexico targeted pork bellies, blueberries, apples, grapes, certain cheeses and various types of steel.

“Mexico’s tariff increase on U.S. pork will impact the industry and harm our rural communities who depend on this trade, especially considering the impacts from other new tariffs and recent tariff increases from China," said Utah Agriculture and Food Commissioner LuAnn Adams.

Mexico is the third-largest importer of Utah agricultural products, including close to $2 million in pork products.

Adams said Mexico's new tariff on some cheese products will hurt Utah dairies that are already struggling with falling prices. Utah exported nearly $500,000 in cheese products to Mexico last year.

"For the benefit of Utah agriculture, I hope this trade dispute is resolved quickly," Adams said.

The retaliatory tariffs announced by Canada, Mexico and the E.U. threaten $122 million in Utah exports primarily in the agriculture, food, electrical equipment and metal industries, said Derek Miller, World Trade Center Utah president and CEO.

Canada, Mexico and the E.U. are all top five export destinations for Utah companies and accounted for half of the state's total exports in 2017, he said.

Miller said tariffs are just another name for taxes, and the Trump administration's tariffs on aluminum and steel be result in higher prices passed on to U.S. consumers.

"Additionally, tariffs placed on steel and aluminum will harm relationships we have with some of our most important trading partners," he said.

Gov. Gary Herbert also weighed in on Trump's new tariffs in a series of Twitter posts Friday.

"Utah businesses know how to compete and how to win in the global marketplace. I would much rather place my bet on their ingenuity and competitiveness than gamble on tariffs," the governor tweeted.

Herbert said he thinks the Trump administration believes tariffs will help Americans.

"But I believe protectionism could be catastrophic," he said.

The U.S. needs to negotiate the best trade deals possible and improve existing ones, but history shows it's not easy to win a trade war, Herbert said.

The governor cited Utah Republican Sen. Reed Smoot's attempt to protect agriculture in the state through tariffs in the 1930s.

"Intentions were good; results were terrible. The Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act invited retaliatory tariffs. It cut American trade by half. It brought massive unemployment and suffering to millions of Americans," he tweeted.

On Thursday, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, one of Trump's closest allies in the Senate, said he would continue to push the administration to change course because the tariffs will harm Americans.

The tariffs on steel and aluminum imports amount to tax increases that will have damaging consequences for consumers, manufacturers and workers, he said.

Hatch said the U.S. should build its success in overhauling the nation's tax code with complementary trade policies that make all sectors of the U.S economy more competitive, rather than favoring a narrow industry.