Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative

St. Louis, MO — Ongoing tariff fight that threatens to increase rate from 10 to 25 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese good adds further stress to an already disaster-weary Mississippi River Commodity Economy, according to the mayors of towns along the Mississippi River.

“We just sustained record flooding in our area and have been managing water above flood stage for over 40 days,” according to Mayor Frank Klipsch of Davenport, Iowa, who serves as co-chair of the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative. “This is not the most opportune time to prolong the tariff battle and give our soybean growers more bad news.

“My state ranks second in U.S. soybean production, with soybeans making up 37 percent of total Iowa crop production. The largest single employer in my area is manufacturing for the agriculture industry,” 

Mayors responded to the tariff fight and flooding in a press release from the Mississippi River Cities & Towns Initiative (MRCTI), comprised of 85 mayors, including Vidalia Mayor Buz Craft. The association represents cities on the main stem Mississippi from Minnesota to Louisiana.

MRCTI says half of the top 10 soy-producing states in the U.S. are along the Mississippi River including Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, and Arkansas. Not only will additional tariffs directly impact farmers and other facets of agriculture in those states, MRCTI says, but also it will impact the nation’s freight industry, as 30 percent of all U.S. soybeans are exported to China.

The mayors said that U.S. agricultural exports to China are critical to the Mississippi River economy, with exports of agricultural products to China totaling $19.6 billion in 2017. China is the largest international destination for U.S. soybeans, importing more than 27 million tons of U.S. soybeans in 2017—30 percent of all U.S. soybean production—and is the second largest ag export market overall for the United States.

“Louisiana has been one of the hardest-hit states from tariffs overall with the vast majority of that impact coming from soybeans; not because we are a top soy-producing state, but because we are the gateway port for that product to the rest of the world, and China is the largest destination,” said Mayor Lionel Johnson St. Gabriel, La., co-chair of MRCTI. “Twenty percent of all U.S. imports and exports pass through Louisiana ports. Not to mention that some of our river cities have been battling flooding since early November.”

MRCTI says agriculture is the third largest economy on the Mississippi River, generating $33 billion in annual revenue and directly supporting 192 thousand jobs in the Mississippi River Valley alone. It said Mississippi River cities are sustained in part by several sectors of the economy that feed into commodity production, including shipping and manufacturing. 

Both MRCTI and American Soybean Association (ASA) urged the government to rapidly conclude negotiations with China, including lifting the existing Section 301 tariffs in exchange for China removing its retaliatory 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans.

“Here in Rock Island, IL we are surrounded by soybean production,” stated Mayor Mike Thoms of Rock Island, Ill. “My state is number one in U.S. soy. Our grain exports have grown over time to the heights they enjoy today.

“I support measures to win better trade deals for the U.S., but I think we’ve been patient with the administration; and, we’re going through a record-flood which adds insult to injury.”

The U.S. is the largest producer of soybeans in the world, and China, the nation’s top soybean purchaser.

“This is a predicament for soy growers,” said Davie Stephens, a grower from Clinton, Ky., and president of the ASA. “We understand that Mr. Trump and his Administration have broad goals they want to achieve for our country, but farmers are in a desperate situation.

“We have growers that have been and will continue to be underwater for weeks from flooding. We don’t need an escalating tariff dispute to make things worse for us.”

Mayors said they stand ready to work together on achieving better, more sustainable trade outcomes for Mississippi River Corridor industries.

“Missouri is the sixth largest soy-producing state and my city of resides next to one our state’s largest ports, Southeast Missouri Port,” explained Bob Fox, Mayor of Cape Girardeau, MO. “My region has the largest soy production in bushels for Missouri. I support a better trade deal for our country, but we have to keep our preeminence in the global commodity supply chain whole.”

Mayor Phil Stang of Kimmswick, MO added: “Ultimately, people’s livelihoods are on the line. I suppose I would like the administration to hear from us that there is a nuance to these negotiations that has an exponential impact on the ground. If you’re going to take a tough line with China for American interests, fine, we can get behind that, but there are impacts to real folks on the farm and on Main Street USA that need to be treated with the utmost care.”

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