North Dakota farmers looking for answers amid tariff uncertainty

Jeff Mertz fears growers could start losing farms if a trade conflict escalates.
Jeff Mertz fears growers could start losing farms if a trade conflict escalates. (GRAYDC)
Published: Jun. 7, 2018 at 4:12 PM EDT

North Dakota farmers are scrambling for answers in Washington. As a trade war brews between the U.S. and its partners, an atmosphere of uncertainty looms. North Dakota agriculture leaders say can’t afford to lose these relationships.

“Worst case scenario, you could see farmers losing their farms,” said Jeff Mertz, president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association.

Mertz is in Washington trying to find solutions in this time of confusion. One of his stops was the Mexican Embassy.

“They’re no different than us. They’re just sitting across the border,” said Mertz.

Mertz says the Mexicans want to come to an agreement. Following President Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum from Mexico, Canada and the EU, Mexico hit back with $3 billion in tariffs on pork, cheese and other products.

With commodity prices already low, Mertz is fearful his industry could tank if a trade war with Mexico happens. He says they use North Dakota barley to make Corona. He doesn’t like being used as a negotiating tool.

“It’s frustrating but you got to believe he’s got a better plan,” said Mertz.

Mertz attended the embassy meeting with Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND).

“We’re doing everything that we can to let Mexico know that we are trying to remain trade compliant,” said Heitkamp.

Heitkamp’s opponent in the North Dakota Senate race is Congressman Kevin Cramer (R-ND). Cramer says the situation will improve for farmers.

“I think you have to give this president a lot of credit for using the tools and the leverage that he has at his disposal to try to get a better deal for American business including American farmers,” said Cramer.

Cramer says a new trade deal negotiated by the White House will be beneficial for his state, but there’s no certainty when, or if, this will happen.

“The problem is when you have a long game plan and there’s short term, potential short term pain, we don’t have a very high pain threshold in the United States of America,” said Cramer.

The Trump administration is not softening its position. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross who says these retaliations are empty threats from other nations.

“People have to understand that you have to do tough things to get big results,” said Ross.

Ross says Mexico needs the partnership more than the U.S. does. The administration wants to strike a better deal that they say will expand market access for U.S. products.

“Either we’re really going to try to fix this and make a major correction, or it’s going to be business as usual and there’s no way to fix it,” said Ross.

President Trump will meet with world leaders at the G-7 Summit in Quebec, Canada starting Friday. All three North American countries will attend.