AUSTIN — Panhandle, Texas, farmer Billy B. Brown voted for Donald Trump, and said the president’s moves to add items to an ever-growing list of tariffs in response to Chinese trade policies hasn’t hurt him yet.

“You can say I’m watching with a great deal of interest,” said Brown, who raises cotton and grain sorghum about 30 miles outside of Amarillo. “Where we go down the road will be interesting.”

But other Texans are expressing more than interest in the trade conflict that has thus far put tariffs on thousands of products.

And with about $50 billion in duties on Chinese products already announced, the White House on Tuesday signaled that it is ready to add a 10 percent levy on another $200 billion worth of its geopolitical rival’s products in response to practices that the administration says unreasonably burden or restrict U.S. commerce.

“There is no question that Texas agriculture is going to feel the impact of this trade dispute,” said Gene Hall, spokesman for the Texas Farm Bureau. “Net farm income is less than what it was five years ago.

“You couldn’t have picked a worse possible time for agriculture to have a trade dispute. I’m reluctant to call it a trade war, but if it’s not one, they start this way.”

Texas politicians, including Gov. Greg Abbott, also have reservations, and they’re not limited to the impact on the state’s agriculture sector.

Abbott last week wrote to tell Trump that tariffs on steel and aluminum imports could hurt Texas workers, including those in the vital petroleum sector.

“Our country’s steel and aluminum workers are a vital part of the national workforce, and creating jobs in that industry must be a top priority,” Abbott wrote. “But attempting to protect these jobs through the new tariffs could jeopardize the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Texans and other Americans employed in the oil and gas industry.

“... In order for the Permian Basin to reach its full potential, substantial infrastructure investment is necessary. If the new tariffs continue to drive up the cost of oil and gas production, America’s quest for global energy dominance could be significantly hindered.

“As your administration continues to champion these businesses and workers, please consider the negative impact that the new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and other goods will have on the economy of Texas and the nation as a whole.”

Jeff Moseley, Texas Association of Business CEO, applauded Abbott’s words, saying the tariffs threaten the state’s economic growth.

“According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a total of 3,150,600 Texas jobs are supported by trade which could be heavily affected by the new tariffs,” Moseley wrote to Abbott. “The tariffs imposed are nothing more than a tax increase on American consumers and businesses who will end up paying more for commonly used materials.

“Further, retaliatory tariffs imposed by other countries on U.S. exports will make American-made goods more expensive, resulting in lost sales and lost jobs here in Texas, and the nation as a whole.”

Mike Davis, an economist at Southern Methodist University, said that for now the trade conflict is “a relatively minor skirmish,” but that the tariffs represent a “radical” departure, with sobering implications for Texas.

“I don’t think people understand just how cosmopolitan this state is,” Davis said. “We really are the nexus of the global economy.

“We’re the biggest exporting state in the country. Any tariff, (we’re) going to feel it here in Texas.”

Vance Ginn, an economist at the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation, echoed the cautionary words.

Ginn advocates traditional approaches to resolve imbalances, rather than retaliatory tariffs: working through the World Trade Organization, for example.

Economist Ray Perryman said that China in particular has been a “bad actor” in international trade, but he questioned the president’s approach to righting the balance.

The Chinese have announced tariffs against the U.S. in response to the administration’s new duties.

Perryman, who heads a Waco-based financial and economic analysis firm, said that Republicans have traditionally supported free trade, not tariffs.

“It’s almost a through-the-looking glass situation,” Perryman said. “They’re imposing tariffs on Trump voters.”

 

John Austin covers the Texas Statehouse for CNHI LLC’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jaustin@cnhi.com.