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U.S. wheat growers worried about tariffs under new TPP

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — The announcement that 11 countries will in March sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP, or TPP-11 as it is sometimes now labeled) has the U.S. wheat industry worried, even as weather conditions threaten the winter wheat crop in Kansas and Texas.

The industry’s biggest worry is loss of wheat market share in Japan, which is second only to Mexico in U.S. wheat imports. Australia and Canada, which compete with the United States for Japan’s wheat market, will face $65 per ton less in tariffs when TPP is fully implemented.

“That would put U.S. wheat producers at a total price disadvantage of more than $200 million per year from TPP alone,” said Ben Conner, U.S. Wheat Associates (USWA) director of policy.

The value of wheat flour sold in Japan was about $24 billion in 2017, according to a January USDA report. That is the third-highest segment in Japan’s $217 billion food processing market, next only to non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages. Japan imports an average of 3.1 million metric tons of U.S. wheat every year.

Wheat groups hopes the U.S. will complete its own free-trade negotiations with Japan, to put tariffs on U.S. wheat at similar levels with TPP members.

“If nothing else, this announcement should serve as a rallying cry for farmers, ranchers and dairy producers calling for the new trade deals we were promised when the President walked away from TPP. The heat needs to be turned up on the administration and on trade negotiations with Japan,” said Gordon Stoner, a Montana farmer and president of the National Assoc. of Wheat Growers.

Japan buys mainly U.S. Western White, Dark Northern Spring and Hard Red Winter wheat. Washington state is a major shipper. “The Philippines, Japan and Korea are the Pacific Northwest’s top three (wheat) purchasers,” said Mike Miller, a Washington wheat farmer who is chair of USWA.

“While trade uncertainty clouds our farmers’ future, it is equally unsettling for our reliable customers who depend on the quality of Pacific Northwest soft white wheat,” Miller was quoted in a statement from the Washington Grain Commission. “The world is awash in wheat and the rest of the world is gunning for our markets.”

The wheat industry also has its eyes on discussions around the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). “It is a highly successful partnership, with tariff-free access, that helped make Mexico our largest customer the past two years and supports revenue for wheat farmers from dozens of states,” he said.

Wheat industry groups from the United States, Canada and Mexico on Jan. 25 sent a letter, underscoring the benefits of NAFTA for the North American wheat value chain, to executive leadership from all three nations, including President Trump.

“An updated trade deal is critical to ensure that all of us can work together to provide the highest quality and most reliable products at the greatest value for the North American supply chain and consumers,” stated the letter.

Adding to wheat producer worries is the deteriorating crop condition in much of the Southern Plains, a major wheat region.

“Across the southern half of the Plains, stress on winter wheat has been compounded by a variety of factors, including poor establishment, intensifying drought and temperature extremes,” stated a Jan. 24 USDA crop update.

In Kansas, only 23 percent of topsoil was rated with adequate moisture at the end of December. Temperatures averaged at least 6 degrees Fahrenheit below normal from Texas through the Delta States and into the Ohio Valley, according to the Weekly Weather and Crop Bulletin. Any impacts from temperatures and moisture extremes will be factored into USDA crop condition reports issued at the end of January.