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China Lifts Ban On American Tobacco; N.C. Farmers Prepare To Reap Benefits

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WILSON — North Carolina farmers have a new reason to be hopeful. China's 11-year ban on American tobacco is gone. Farmers will be able to sell their leaf to another 300 million smokers.

Tobacco pumps millions of dollars into North Carolina. China's promise to allow U.S. tobacco into its borders means money here at home.

"We support the farmer a great deal and the farm community as a whole. It's good for them, and it's going to be good for us," says Ed Luper of Kenly Ford. "It has a trickle down effect. If they get money, they spend money locally and it helps us all."

Chris Bass hopes to continue his family's tobacco tradition, and China might make it easier. China's smokers consume one-third of the world's cigarettes.

"This is the first good news I've heard in five years," Bass says. "My understanding is that the China market is big enough where the North Carolina market can't grow enough tobacco to sell."

The amount of tobacco U.S. farmers can sell each year has dropped by more than half since 1997. If China keeps its promise, the cut in quotas in North Carolina could be reversed.

"We're under no illusion that we're dealing with the Chinese government on this issue, and there will be negotiations continuing," says Peter Daniel of theNorth Carolina Farm Bureau. "This is a huge step forward for our tobacco farmers and agriculture interests in North Carolina."

China produces half the tobacco in the world, though it is a lower quality leaf. Some growers wonder if China will also try to sell its leaf in America.

Farmers who want to compete in the overseas market must fork over money to upgrade their tobacco curing barns.

State lawmakers will introduce a plan Thursday to make as much as $75 million available to them. The proposal calls for using money from the state's share of the national tobacco settlement to float tax-exempt bonds.

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Brian Bowman, Reporter
Brian Bowman, Photographer
Kamal Wallace, Web Editor

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