“We’re at a Crossroads.” Panel Discusses Trade and Tariffs at GNDC Policy Summit

The annual Policy Summit hosted by the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce is taking place in Bismarck. Business and community leaders gather each year to discuss public policy issues in the state. One of today’s panel focuses was on trade and tariffs. On the panel, one North Dakota business CEO and President laid out the financial impact on his business in Wahpeton.

Much of our trade war discussions have focused on agriculture and the impact on farmers. We’ve made the case that as the farm economy goes, so goes the rest of the state. Less money in farmers’ pockets means less spending at the local grocery store, implement dealer, bar, and cafe. Some locally owned businesses want to make sure the public knows it isn’t just the ripple effect of the farm economy that is impacting their business. It is the tariffs themselves.

Thomas Shorma, President and CEO of WCCO Belting, Inc. in Wahpeton, ND talked about the cost Trump’s tariffs have had on his business. WCCO Belting is a manufacturer or agriculture and industrial rubber belting and conveyor products. Shorma said he needs to import his materials from other countries, including China because there isn’t a resource domestically. He said the import cost for fabric was approximately $255,000 per year for years. With the latest jump in tariffs, Shorma said it now costs him $1.5 million per year in cost. He made clear he believes something needs to be done with China, but closed by saying, “We’re at a crossroads.”

Recall, tariffs levied by the Trump administration are paid for by American businesses into the treasury. Those businesses may pass that cost onto consumers. China isn’t cutting the United States a check. The President continues to lie about where the tariff money is coming from. It is unfortunate others, including North Dakota’s Senator John Hoeven, have echoed that claim.


This situation has led to tensions in public discussions on the administration’s response to trade war impacts. It isn’t uncommon to hear individuals point to these impacts of the trade war on businesses and consumers and ask what is being done to alleviate those additional costs and burdens to them. Businesses aren’t receiving multiple multi-billion dollar market facilitation payments (MFP) that farmers are receiving to offset the impacts of the trade war. Many farmers have acknowledged that by declaring they “want trade, not aid” and want a deal done soon.


Without a doubt, farmers have felt the brunt of the retaliatory tariffs from China. Many are struggling and hope the band-aid MFP payments will help them make it financially until their product gets to market. But we can’t forget there are many other North Dakotans dramatically impacted by the use of tariffs. The bottom line, we need trade deals.

Tyler Axness
Latest posts by Tyler Axness (see all)