Farm leaders representing two of Iowa’s top ag products — pork and soybeans — starkly warned last week that President Donald Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on China over intellectual property thefts could spark a trade war and deal another sharp blow to the already-struggling farm economy.

The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) said China’s plan to impose tariffs on U.S. pork exports will harm pig raisers. “We sell a lot of pork to China, so higher tariffs on our exports going there will harm our producers and undermine the rural economy,” said NPPC President Jim Heimerl, a pork producer from Johnstown, Ohio. “No one wins in these tit-for-tat trade disputes, least of all the farmers and the consumers.”

Last year, the U.S. pork industry exported $1.1 billion of product to China, making that country the No. 2 value market for U.S. pork.

For soybeans, China is an even bigger player in the world market. It imports 62 percent of global soybean production, with nearly 39 percent of that total originating from the United States. Last year, U.S. soybeans exports were valued at nearly $14 billion.

Soybean growers worry that soybean exports could soon be in the crosshairs.

“No winners emerge from a trade war, and that’s particularly true when it involves food and nutrition,” said Bill Shipley, a Nodaway farmer and Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) president.

ISA leaders were on a week-long trade mission to China last week when the tariffs were announced. “It’s very clear from our conversations this week in China that our most important customer of U.S. soybeans doesn’t desire a trade war. The people just want to do business,” Shipley said.

Trump directed U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to announce within 15 days a proposed list of products that would be subject to tariff increases. The action is designed to protect U.S. jobs and close the wide U.S. trade deficit with China.

Acknowledging pain

Lighthizer, who testified on Capital Hill last week, acknowledged that agriculture could be hurt by the proposed tariffs. But he contended that the United States has to punish China and protect U.S. intellectual property “for the national good.”

John Heisdorffer, a Keota farmer and president of the American Soybean Association, warned that Chinese retaliation against U.S. soybean exports was likely. “Multiple reports indicate the Chinese have U.S. soybeans squarely in their sights for retaliation, and this decision places soybean farmers across the country in financial danger,” Heisdorffer said in a news release. “There is a real struggle in agriculture to keep everything going right now. It’s extremely frustrating to have the administration taking aim at our largest trading partner.”