Texas Ag Commissioner Sid Miller Isn’t Worried About Tariffs – Yet

“We’re just now beginning to ship beef into China. So it’s not like we’re losing a market – it’s a market we’ve never had.”

By Jill AmentApril 6, 2018 1:10 pm, ,

Facing potential new tariffs with China, some Texas agricultural producers say they’re concerned about extra taxes on the products they ship to China. But the state’s Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller says most Texas producers won’t be affected.

“Beef producers are going to be the least affected by this,” Miller says. “For 14 years, we haven’t shipped any beef to China. We still have shipped very little, if any, Texas beef to China. Last June, we got that raised. So we’re just now beginning to ship beef into China. So it’s not like we’re losing a market – it’s a market we’ve never had.”

Miller says the tariffs also wouldn’t affect cotton, Texas’ second largest crop behind cattle.

“China has overproduced cotton,” he says. “They have more cotton than they need. They actually have cotton in storage. So China’s not a big market for Texas cotton, since they have overproduced. Pork is traditionally not a big item in Texas, either. What does affect Texas somewhat – soybeans. We’re not a leader in soybeans, but we do have some soybean production. That could possibly have a tariff on it. But our biggest crop that would be affected would be our sorghum producers. They are a big market for our Texas sorghum.”

Still, Miller says the Texas agriculture industry has no reason to worry since the tariffs are only proposals at this point.

“The ink hasn’t dried on anything,” he says. “We’re a long way from a deal.”

Miller is, however, concerned about the future of the Texas shrimp industry, which is experiencing a worker shortage. That’s why the commissioner is asking the Trump administration for help in obtaining more foreign worker visas.

Kaley Boudreaux works for Twin City Shrimp Co. in Port Isabel. Her grandfather founded the business back in 1947.

“This is an issue down here, a big issue,” she Boudreaux. “Almost every single shrimping company down here uses H-2B visa workers, because we just cannot find workers that want to do it.”

Boudreaux says that without the H-2B visa program, which allows them to hire temporary foreign workers, her company would not be able to stay in business.

“The same guys have been coming with us for years on H-2B visas,” she says. “They stick it out. And a lot of people nowadays don’t stick it out.”

Sid Miller says the visa program also affects many other industries.

“These industries are unique in many cases,” he says. “Take the shrimp industry. Now that employee will get on that shrimp boat and be gone for a minimum of 30 days. Some of the shrimpers will stay out 60, 90, or 120 days before they ever come back. They just can’t find many people that want to do that. And when they come back, the job’s over. You’re done.”

Miller says the visa program isn’t taking away jobs from Americans, since the work is temporary and very difficult. Within the program, he says, there are two types of visas.

“There’s H-2A, which is agriculture workers. And H-2B, which is non-agriculture workers, business workers. And they’re both capped,” Miller says. “And the problem we have a lot of times is you will get someone to come up here on a visa program and they don’t return. They don’t fulfill the contract. They just kind of fade off into the countryside.”

Miller says, in that case, the visa wouldn’t be replaced and the employer wouldn’t be able to fill that spot.

Written by Jen Rice.