U.S. farm heartland lobbies to steer Trump away from Mexico trade war

Farmers in the U.S. agricultural heartland that helped elect Donald Trump are now pushing his administration to avoid a trade dispute with Mexico, fearing retaliatory tariffs that could hit over $3 billion in U.S. Exports. The value of exports at risk is based on a Reuters analysis of a tariff list which Mexico used in a trucking dispute six years ago and which Mexican officials have said could serve as a model if President Trump sets new barriers to Mexican goods. Pork producers contacted Trump’s transition team soon after the Nov. 8 election to stress that tariff-free access to Mexico has made it their top export market by volume, said John Weber, president of the National Pork Producers Council. The council has sent the administration multiple letters, including one signed in January by 133 agricultural organizations, and is arranging for several hog farmers to fly to Washington next month to talk to officials. “We just keep pounding them on how critical trade is to us,” said Weber, who fears Mexico could revive the list of mostly agricultural products it successfully used to push Washington into letting Mexican truckers on U.S. highways in 2011. Pork products topped that list and, if revived, the tariffs would apply to over $800 million of annual pork exports, according to data compiled by IHS Markit’s Global Trade Atlas. “We’ll be the first to take the hit,” Weber said. The lobbying effort by U.S. businesses which rely on the Mexican market shows how Mexico can press its case in Washington despite having an economy 1/17 the size of America’s and relying on the U.S. market for nearly 80 percent if its exports. In Iowa, where pigs outnumber people seven to one, hog and grain farmer Jamie Schmidt voted for Trump in part on his promise to cut regulatory burdens for businesses. Now he and others who farm the flat, rich land around Garner, Iowa, worry about trade. Schmidt gets about half of his income from hogs, earning $4-5 for each of the 425 pigs he sells per week, usually to a Tyson Foods packing plant in nearby Perry, Iowa. Tariffs from Mexico could depress U.S. wholesale prices and wipe out his profits, Schmidt said. “It would be devastating.”