Photo taken on July 26, 2018 shows Cindy Brown, a 62-year-old leading kidney bean processor, stands in front of her factory Located at the suburb of Menomonie, a small town in mid-western Wisconsin, the United States. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)
by Xinhua writers Liu Chen, Hu Yousong, Liu Jie
MADISON, the United States, July 29 (Xinhua) -- In her whole life, Cindy Brown, a 62-year-old leading kidney bean processor in the mid-west of U.S. state of Wisconsin, has never felt such a strong sense of "uncertainty."
Her family-run business has been thrown into disarray since the European Union (EU), her major export market, added extra tariffs on imports of U.S. goods in June to retaliate against the U.S. trade tariffs. The kidney bean is on the EU's target list.
"We have 60 loads of products (roughly 1,200 tons in total) that should have shipped last month and are not going to ship," the second generation kidney bean grower and processor told Xinhua in an interview on Thursday.
The uncertainty is the worst part," Brown said.
As the largest red kidney bean processing company in North America, Chippewa Valley Bean, a Wisconsin-based family business with an annual output of 45,000 tons, exports 60 percent of its products to Europe.
"This year we expected to do 25 million U.S. dollars worth of business with the European Union," said Brown in her office. "Of course, that's before the tariff."
Following the U.S. tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, the EU, along with other countries, retaliated by imposing tariffs on products worth about 3.4 billion U.S. dollars, ranging from industrial goods to agricultural products.
Brown's red kidney bean was among the targeted goods, which was asked to pay an extra 25-percent tariffs staring from June 22.
"That was a deal breaker," said Brown with a frowning face.
Due to the extra cost, a large portion of the company's done deals have been put in question.
"About 20 percent (of the European buyers) at this point have said, nope, not going to take it," said Brown. "The majority of them just stood back and said, let's see what happens."
Located at the suburb of Menomonie, a small town in mid-western Wisconsin surrounded by extensive lands of crops, Chippewa Valley Bean plant was rather quiet these days, with two basketball field-sized warehouses stuffed with piles of bags of processed red kidney beans.
"Normally there would be trucks coming in and out of here all day," Russell Doane, Brown's father who founded the company in 1969, told Xinhua. "And that's not true today."
"We hope that it will ultimately be solved," the 87-year-old said.
But for Charles Wachsmuth, Brown's son who joined the family business six years ago, the damage could be permanent if there is no swift removal of the tariffs.
"If the tariffs are still in effect in February, March (next year) ... we will see regions that don't traditionally do dark red kidney beans start to play the kidney beans," the third-generation who was in charge of the company's market development told Xinhua.
It could be newcomers from East Africa or Ukraine, or more production in South America, Wachsmuth said. "Once somebody starts to grow crop, you can't stop them."
To carry out the signed contracts, some buyers have suggested splitting the burden evenly with Chippewa Valley Bean, but even that was not a workable solution.
"Our profit margins aren't that high," Brown told Xinhua explicitly. "If we were to pay half of that tariff, there wouldn't need to be a Chippewa Valley Bean next year."
Selling products to the domestic market was beyond consideration, too. "We produce far too much for our U.S. consumption," said Brown.
Meanwhile, as the result of a "rippling effect," the uncertainty in Brown's business will soon be passed on to the upstream in the supply chain. Over 100 red kidney bean growers providing raw materials for the company, which spread throughout the Midwest states like Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Wisconsin, will begin to feel the pain.
"We have to reduce our grower prices to help pay for a portion of this (tariffs)," Brown said.
TRADE, NOT AID
When the prospect remains dim, a glimpse of hope has appeared. On Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump talked with visiting President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday, with the two agreeing to suspend new tariffs and negotiate trade practices to shun a trade war.
However, the news did not cheer the deeply troubled family up. "We have no idea how long it will take, where it's going," Brown said.
"I do know that the European Trade Commission has not taken kidney beans off their list," she added.
In another attempt to mitigate pains felt by farmers, the Trump administration on Tuesday announced a 12-billion-U.S.-dollar aid plan, which unsurprisingly got a cool reception nationwide.
"We want trade, not aid," Chippewa Valley Bean shared the prevailing opinion among U.S. farmers.
Just a one-time aid certainly could not solve our problem, said Tom Kwak, the operation director in the company.
Besides, Brown questioned where the U.S. government could get the money needed.
"And that's just only for this year. That's not for next year," she added. "It's not sustainable."
Born in 1931, Doane has experienced the aftermath of the Great Depression in the 1930s. For him, the trade tariffs ordered by Trump claiming to protect U.S. businesses and farmers made him recall the implementation of the Smoot-Hawley bill in 1930.
The act, which raised U.S. tariffs on over 20,000 imported goods, was signed by then U.S. President Herbert Hoover and has been seen by many as exacerbating the U.S. recession into a worldwide depression.
"That tariff bill was designed to protect American jobs," said Doane, "It had the opposite effect."