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Illinois Farm Bureau, Springfield Steel Manufacturer Weigh In On Tariffs

The head of the Illinois Farm Bureau is taking issue with President Donald Trump’s comments that he’s opening up the European market to American farmers.

Mark Gebhards, executive director of the bureau, says this may not be possible since the European Union has banned genetically modified products, which many crops from the U.S. contain.

“What’s being said from a public standpoint and what’s actually happening or will happen are two different things in that regard,” he said at a meeting of the Citizen’s Club of Springfield.

“And so that’s when our level of frustration and concern is at an all-time high,” he said.

This comes a day after Trump traveled to southern Illinois and spoke about trade policy. Tariffs he’s placed on steel and aluminum imports have led to retaliatory Chinese tariffs on soybeans and corn.

Mark Selvaggio, president of Springfield-based Selvaggio Steel, was also on the Citizen Club panel. He says the trade policies could help steel producers.

“If we can reset this trade strategy to a point where it’s a better level playing field, inside and outside the U.S., it’s got a pretty good strategy,” he said.

Gebhards says the agricultural industry has weathered trade spates in the past, but what's different this time is the uncertainty around multiple issues at the same time. The U.S. is reneogatiing major trade deals with Canada and Mexico, while Congress is crafting an updated farm bill, on top of dealing with Chinese tariffs.

"The only certainty with this is uncertainty," he said.

Mary Hansen is a former NPR Illinois reporter.
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