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One year into a trade war with China, Illinois whiskey, soybeans and metal still caught in the crossfire

Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

CHICAGO -- It's been just over a year since President Donald Trump imposed steep tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum, setting off a cascade of retaliatory tariffs throughout the summer that threatened to upend business at Chicago's spirits distilleries, Illinois' soybean farms, and dozens of other industries across the nation.

Negotiations continue between the U.S. and the primary target of its trade wrath, China, raising hopes that there could be a resolution soon. But other signs point to escalating trade tensions as the U.S. threatens $11 billion more in tariffs on the European Union for products like wine, pajamas and Gouda cheese, and Canada discusses refreshing its list of retaliatory tariffs against the U.S.

Have companies suffered from the tariff battle as much as some people feared?

Local business owners in three industries affected by the trade war describe how it's affected them.

Soybeans

As the nation's No. 1 producer of soybeans, Illinois got walloped when China, the world's biggest buyer of the legume, imposed a 25 percent retaliatory tariff on U.S. soybeans.

 

Soybean exports from Illinois fell by half last year, a loss of $1 billion, according to U.S. Census trade data. Prices plunged and unsold soybeans piled up, with stockpiles of the crop up 30 percent in Illinois as of March compared with a year before due to the combination of the tariffs and a record year for production in the state.

A $12 billion national aid package offered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to tariff-affected farmers eased the pain for Illinois soybean producers, most of whom broke even, thanks to the government assistance, said Adam Nielsen, director of national legislation at the Illinois Farm Bureau.

Illinois received $600 million in the first round of payments, the most of any state, and is predicted to be the biggest recipient once the second and final round is finalized in May, he said.

"If the goal was to avert a disaster, it did," Nielsen said.

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