U.S. Ranchers and Meat Packers Could Be the Next Victims of the Trump Trade War

Motorcycles, beer, washing machines, and whiskey—U.S. producers in all of those categories have faced unintended consequences from the Trump trade war.

Now add another all-American mainstay: meat.

According to a new report by the Wall Street Journal, more than 2.5 billion pounds of U.S. beef, pork, and poultry are currently in cold storage, waiting for buyers. One analyst told the Journal that those stockpiles, combined with modest U.S. demand growth and serious uncertainty surrounding export conditions, could lead to “one of the biggest corrections we’ve seen in the industry in several years.”

Some meat packers are canceling investment and expansion plans in the U.S., while others are reportedly scaling back production. Storage facilities, meanwhile, are reportedly running out of room to store the near-record amounts of excess meat.

Part of the glut is thanks to long-term overproduction caused by declining feed costs. U.S. meat production has been rising steadily for nearly a decade, and will reach a record 102.7 billion pounds this year, according to USDA projections.

But the best prospect for selling all that meat—exporting it—has hit a snag courtesy of President Donald Trump. Trump’s trade war has driven up tariffs on U.S. meat in major foreign markets including Mexico, China, and Canada. China imposed a 25% tariff on American pork in April, and raised it to a staggering 62% this month. According to the Journal, prices for pork products have increased sharply there, and exports from the U.S. declined by 18% in the first half of 2018. The largest market for U.S. pork, Mexico, doubled its pork tariff to 20% on June 5.

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One hog farming operation in Carlyle, Ill. told the Journal it was cancelling $30 million worth of domestic investment, and considering setting up new operations in Eastern Europe or South America to avoid trade uncertainty. Many of America’s meat production and processing hotbeds are in states Trump carried in the 2016 election, including Texas, Nebraska, Kansas, and Arkansas. That’s not coincidental—China has specifically targeted industries in conservative states as a way to drive a wedge between groups in the U.S.

Canada, meanwhile, implemented a 10% retaliatory tariff on some U.S. beef starting July 1, and China raised its tariff on U.S. beef to 37% on July 6. China is not a major export market for U.S. beef, which was banned there for more than a decade, but the tariffs appear poised to throttle rapidly growing demand. The U.S. Meat Export Federation had projected that U.S. beef exports to China, which only resumed in June of last year, could have reached $400 million over the next four years.

Farming leaders speaking at a House Ways and Means subcommittee hearing this month warned that Trump’s multi-front trade war could have “dire” consequences for farmers and ranchers. Among other points, they emphasized that the impacts of tariffs don’t end when the tariffs are lifted.

“Once we lose that market,” one farmer told the committee, “It is really tough to get it back.”

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