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BLOOMINGTON — Illinois pork producers may be hurt by China's decision Monday to hike import duties on $3 billion worth of U.S products in response to U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum, the state's agriculture leaders say.

“Nobody ever wants a trade war, least of all farmers in Central Illinois,” said Tamara Nelson, senior director of commodities with the Bloomington-based Illinois Farm Bureau. “Our farmers always end up being the target and this could be a big deal.”

The Chinese raised the duties on 128 products, including pork, steel pipe, sparkling wine, apples, watermelons, grapes, raisins and nuts. The tariffs went into effect Monday.

“We are obviously opposed to this,” said Tim Stock, executive vice president of the Decatur-based Macon County Farm Bureau. “It hurts every farmer across the board because you are restricting ag exports. China is one of our biggest trade partners and it is sad to see that it is coming to something like this.”

American farm exports to China in 2017 totaled nearly $20 billion, including $1.1 billion of pork products.

Accusing the U.S. of violating World Trade Organization regulations, China’s Ministry of Commerce announced tariffs of 25 percent on all pork products and aluminum scrap and 15 percent on other products on the list.

“Here in Illinois and at the Farm Bureau, we have a really long relationship history with China and the Chinese market for agriculture products,” Nelson said.

“We had a study tour in 2001 which included 19 farmers, some University of Illinois experts and even the assistant director of agriculture," Nelson said. "We went again in 2008 and by then, our exports had gone up by a factor of 8. We had so many more exports because of those two trips.”

Because of trips like that, the Illinois ag industry has had a good relationship with China, she said.

“I think that is why Illinois is nervous, especially farmers,” she added.

“There are so many Chinese consumers who have relished the opportunity to purchase from us, some of the things they can’t grow as well at home," she said. "We have a nice array of products that go to China, one of our biggest markets.”

Stock said it’s unfortunate that farmers have no say in the matter.

“We are at the mercy of those making the decisions on this one,” he said. “The people making these decisions are disconnected from those who are producing the product.”

“I think the Chinese have done their homework on what products will likely raise the ire of the politically vocal parts of the country where you have a lot of farmers and farm groups who will go to their legislators and complain,” she said. “It’s only $3 to $5 billion in U.S. goods and actually, that is a lot less than what we expected.”

Follow Kevin Barlow on Twitter: @pg_barlow

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Agriculture Reporter

Agriculture reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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