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Tariff row unsettles ginseng growers

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-10-08 10:12
Since the start of the year, the US has been wielding the stick of tariffs against its trading partners worldwide. [Photo/IC]

WASHINGTON - Joe Heil has grown ginseng for more than 20 years. His Wisconsin-based farm with 50-acre ginseng was lucrative. Recently, however, the fear of loss looms large in his mind.

As the US-ignited trade frictions with China escalate, some customers who have expressed interest in purchasing Wisconsin ginseng have backed off. "They're scared about what the tariffs are going to do to their margins," the 46-year-old grower said earlier this month, before both countries announced fresh tariffs.

Owing to good soil and weather, Wisconsin is well known for its high-quality ginseng, which accounts for over 90 percent of the total cultivated ginseng output of the United States.

Most of US ginseng products are exported to Asian countries, where ginseng root, usually consumed in beverages or soups, is believed to be good for health. Dubbed the "king of herbs", ginseng is also believed to contain high medical value in traditional Chinese medicine.

As a countermeasure against the US unilateral move to slap massive tariffs on Chinese imports, China in early April suspended tariff concessions on 128 items of US products and started to impose a tariff of 15 percent on 120 items, including ginseng.

Since the start of the year, the US has been wielding the stick of tariffs against its trading partners worldwide. The moves have triggered tit-for-tat retaliations from countries affected, and are expected to drag down global growth by 0.5 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.

The newly added tariff disturbed Heil's ginseng business. "I can't afford to absorb it (the tariff) myself," he said. "It's not lucrative enough."

About 80 percent of Heil's products are purchased by Chinese. Among others are Malaysian, Japanese and Singaporean buyers.

Heil has traveled to China several times over past years. With "some partnerships and friends" in China, he can export his ginseng products directly to China, his most important market, without "people in the middle".

"We've to look at some alternative places to ship our product. Once we plant the seed, it takes four years before we've anything to harvest. It's really tough to start messing with the acres I grow, because that's a trickle effect that affects everything for a long time," he said.

Tongrentang, a Beijing-based pharmaceutical company, is another victim of the 15-percent tariff.

The key buyer of Wisconsin ginseng and the largest producer of traditional Chinese medicine has had its own ginseng garden in Wisconsin since 2017.

Li Nan, deputy general manager of the US branch of Tongrentang, said soy bean and corn growers also suffer serious losses, with agriculture-related businesses like farmland equipment and pesticide too among the victims.

"It hurts everybody," Heil said. "I'm hoping that we can figure it out."

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