A bipartisan group of western senators led by Montana’s Steve Daines and Jon Tester have asked federal trade officials to confront India’s imposition of 50 percent tariffs on pulse exports.
Pulses include crops like peas, lentils and beans. India is the top export market for U.S. dried peas, averaging 200,000 tons a year.
“The imposition of such an increase without notice has caused cash dry pea prices to collapse in the United States,” the senators wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Nov. 17. “Furthermore, exporters with shipments currently en route will suffer severe financial hardship when the tariff is applied to their product upon arrival.”
The letter was also signed by senators James Risch, R-Idaho; Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.; John Hoeven, R-N.D.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; and Patty Murray D-Wash.
Montana has become the largest producer of pulse crops in the United States in recent years with 1.16 million acres harvested in 2017, nearly triple the amount harvested seven years ago, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Sagging wheat prices are the most-often-cited reason Montana farmers are planting peas, lentils and garbanzo beans. The price of wheat has fallen from record highs in 2008 to 15-year lows this year. Wheat has lost 1.2 million Montana acres to other crops since 2014, with most of those acres going to peas and lentils. Northeastern Montana is where the switch to pulse crops started a decade ago.
India’s move also affected Canadian agricultural markets. Canada exports more than a million tons of peas worth more than $400 million a year to India. Before India’s Nov. 8 decision, Canada faced no tariffs on its pulse deliveries.
The senators asked that India reverse its tariff decision or at least delay it for 90 days so shipments under existing contracts could get their original value. If that didn’t work, they asked the Department of Agriculture to buy peas intended for India during the current marketing year as surplus commodities.
India’s domestic farmers produced a record 23 million tons of pulses in 2017, 20 percent more than the previous high mark. It also imports about 6.6 million tons more. That has depressed prices internally, prompting the Indian government to seek ways of supporting its own agricultural sector.