RICHVILLE – United States Senator Gary Peters rolled through Tuscola County Monday on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle, making a stop at Star of the West Milling Co.’s Richville location to speak to employees and local farmers.
Unsurprisingly, the word tariff was mentioned often.
Peters, a Democrat from Bloomfield Hills, has gone on a motorcycle tour of Michigan each summer since his November 2014 election.
“I’m an avid motorcyclist, I’ve been doing it since I was very young and I always thought the best way to see this beautiful state of ours and to meet people is to do it on a motorcycle,” Peters said.
Peters arrived on his bike a little before 10:30 a.m., and departed around noon. His second stop of the day was Bay City, and from there, Peters headed north on I-75 to West Branch.
“Right now, I’m traveling across the state on my motorcycle tour having the opportunity to listen to the folks throughout Michigan, particularly central Michigan and northern Michigan,” Peters told reporters Monday. “Star of the West is a very important company in this region, (I want to) get a better sense of how business is going, some of the challenges they face and some of the opportunities.”
Peters sat down for a roundtable discussion with Star of the West employees and local farmers, before touring the plant and conducting a media interview.
Star of the West, a system of flour mills and grain elevators providing flour products and agronomy services, was founded in 1870. Its main office is in Frankenmuth but it has 22 locations in Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, New York and North Dakota.
Much of the discussion during the roundtable was about the developing trade war between the United States and allied countries.
On June 22, the European Union responded to tariffs implemented by President Donald Trump’s administration by imposing an additional 25-percent tariff penalty on many U.S. goods that will be shipped to European Union countries – including agricultural products.
“The trade impacts us in agriculture in all aspects, and all the crops we grow,” said James Howe, CEO of Star of the West Milling Co. “The farmers are impacted by soybean values, wheat values, and recently dry beans that we grow and ship around the globe. Right now, we’re facing a 25-percent tariff in the EU, and we have facilities that can’t ship to the EU right now because of the tariffs.”
Howe added that 60 percent of the company’s value is shipped to EU countries, and that no shipments have been made to Europe since the June 22 EU tariff announcement.
Peters said during the roundtable that while he supports Trump’s hardline stance on the imposition of added tariffs on U.S. products sold to China, he does not agree with the administration imposing additional tariffs on allies like the EU and Canada.
“You can’t let a country (China) routinely violate trade rules,” said the senator. “If you do that, they continue to violate and it escalates, and certainly we’ve seen the Chinese do that. The Chinese are huge violators.
“My concern about where the policy is with the Trump administration right now is that it’s not focused. You’re also seeing him go after the Canadians, they’re going after the Europeans. Usually, you don’t go after your allies, you try to bring your allies along.”
With September harvest around the corner, Howe voiced his concern about the new trade conflict.
“We’ve got harvest in about three to four weeks, we’ve not shipped anything since June 22,” Howe said. “Our Canadian friends are shipping really steady now, they’re picking up the slack. They eventually will probably run out, but our plants right now are idle and waiting for instructions.”
Howe mentioned receiving an email from a customer in Italy. Because of a trucking glitch, he said, the shipment missed the June 22 deadline, and was subject to the new EU tariff. Meaning Star of the West is on the hook for an additional $50,000 – 25 percent of the cost of the product.
“I’ve been talking to the administration, certainly we’ve been making it very clear to President Trump that the trade wars right now have gone beyond what is effective,” Peters said. “We need to focus on the Chinese and not hitting some of our allies, which is having a particularly negative impact on agriculture.
“The one thing I hear throughout the agricultural regions of Michigan is that they’re definitely hurting, and will continue to be hurt if things don’t come to a resolution fairly quickly.”
Recently, the Trump administration announced a $12 billion trade compensation package, that could soften the economic impact felt by the U.S. agricultural community.
But, Howe said, a bailout is not necessarily what local farmers are looking for.
“Most of the farmers, we live with them, they’re our customers, our family, our friends,” Howe said. “They’re not really big on handouts. They’d just assume let the markets be the markets and move forward.”
Peters has heard the same response from farmers across the state.
“There’s certainly a lot of industries that have been impacted by these tariffs, so if you help farmers, that’s good, but there are a lot of other folks that have been hurt as well,” Peters said. “Certainly, the farmers I’ve talked to, and the farmers I talked to here today, would rather grow products and ship them around the world and compete. They’re not looking for a handout from the federal government.”
A common opinion of everyone in attendance Monday – fast action.
“I think I speak for all farmers, and us in agriculture, in that we’d like a quick resolution, but it may not be as quick as we’d like,” Howe said. “And then the concerning part is the length of these times. Most farmers will say they can handle a little bit of it, but in the long term, it’s a problem because it affects them economically in a very negative way.”
Before departing, Peters also took a moment to address the present disconnect in the U.S. between Republicans and Democrats.
“I just see this dangerous trend in the whole country that’s becoming much more tribal,” the senator said. “Folks aren’t willing to listen to the other side, both sides are guilty and we’ve got to come through this kind of tough time and figure out ways we can work together.”
Prior to being elected senator, Peters, 59, was a U.S. representative for Michigan’s 14th Congressional District.