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A coalition of farm advocacy groups announced a campaign Tuesday against the president's decision to impose tariffs on imported metals and other goods.

The group, made up of more than 100 agribusinesses, agriculture administrations, and retailers -- including Walmart Inc. and the Arkansas Rice Growers Association, fear tariffs could eliminate "hundreds of thousands of jobs."

Americans for Farmers & Families aimed its latest effort -- called "Retaliation Hurts Rural Families" -- at communities that support President Donald Trump, said spokesman Kevin Lawlor.

The group's main concern: By imposing steel and aluminum tariffs on other countries, it could lead them to retaliate against the U.S., directly or indirectly affecting agricultural communities.

"We want people to understand the seriousness of trade retaliation," Lawlor said. "If you look at the actions, a lot of people are worried it could directly affect them, and China's already signaled the area they could affect the most is agriculture."

About 33 percent of the nation's agricultural exports last year went to the top aluminum-producing countries and even more, roughly 39 percent, went to the top steel-producing countries, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Casey Guernsey, a Missouri lawmaker, is already preparing for the worst.

"This is not a hypothetical discussion," Guernsey said in a news release. "It is real job losses and real lack of market access, which will hurt rural families and the agricultural industry."

Mervin Jebaraj, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, is more reserved in his prediction of how things will shake out.

A lot of information out there is based on Trump's first "blanket statement" regarding steel and aluminum tariffs, Jebaraj said, which doesn't account for recent tariff exemptions.

"A lot of this is in flux," he said.

The European Union and South Korea, for example, are exempt from the president's metal tariffs, while China has threatened retaliation if Trump follows through with a $60 billion tariffs on Chinese goods, Bloomberg reported.

"I don't think it's going to be as harsh as what the blanket statement entails, but I would expect prices to go up," Jebaraj said.

Arkansas, one of the leading producers of broiler chickens, rice, soy beans and cotton, relies heavily on the North American Free Trade Agreement. In 2016, food and agriculture exports totaled $1 billion with trade partners taking 45 percent of the total. Food and agriculture industries directly and indirectly support an estimated 484,797 jobs in Arkansas, totaling $20 billion in wages.

Nationwide, the North American Free Trade Agreement supports more than 43 million jobs, ranging from grocers and truck drivers, to ranchers and farmers.

Business on 03/28/2018

Print Headline: Tariffs opposed by farm coalition

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