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North Carolina was built on tobacco. Take a 30-minute drive outside any metropolitan area in our state and you can’t help but notice old tobacco barns, often accompanied by acres of tobacco fields. Tobacco is part of our culture, part of what makes up the history of our state and a huge economic engine for our rural economy.
However, tobacco is at a turning point in North Carolina. Over the past several months, our country has been in an intense trade war with China. President Trump raised tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports, and as a response, the Chinese have increased tariffs up to 25% on many American goods, including tobacco.
This game of chess has only become more intense as time has passed, and it saddens and infuriates me to see our country’s farmers, and agricultural commodities like tobacco, being used as mere pawns. To put that into perspective, three-quarters of the tobacco grown in North Carolina is exported to other countries. In 2017, our state’s farmers sent $162 million in tobacco to China. Last year, we saw that number drop to $4 million, resulting in tobacco contracts in North Carolina being cut 75% to 80%.
And while the farmers and rural communities in eastern North Carolina continue to bear the brunt of political squabbles, China — one of the fastest-growing tobacco markets globally — is simply looking elsewhere for its tobacco, purchasing the crop from farmers in Africa.
As President Trump and our trade representatives work through negotiations with the Chinese, I urge them to think about the unintentional consequences these tariffs have had, and will continue to have, on the farmer, our rural communities and the crops that were once considered king. The next move is key, don’t make it a blunder.
The writer is farm manager for Sharp Family Farms.