The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that the Trump administration is quietly talking with China in an attempt to work out differences and dial down trade tensions.
During the campaign Donald Trump made hay by poking the Chinese and other trade partners. The administration slapped tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.
It would be disingenuous to suggest that other administrations haven’t rattled the tariff saber. President Obama hit the Chinese with tariffs on tires to help domestic tire manufacturers. President George W. Bush, like Trump, slapped tariffs on imported steel to boost U.S. manufacturers.
In both cases, the targeted domestic industries benefited briefly from those actions. In both cases targeted countries took action against U.S. exports, particularly agricultural goods. Farmers lost out.
China is pushing back against the steel tariffs with a list of tariffs of its own on $3 billion worth of agricultural and steel products. Pork, nuts, cherries, citrus and apples are among those targeted.
Agricultural products, mostly pork but also including apples, oranges, cherries, grapes and nuts, account for $2.2 billion of the total. China’s retaliatory list includes $228 million in almonds, walnuts, pistachios and macadamia nuts. It includes $170 million in cherries $88 million in citrus, $41 million in grapes, $36.7 million in apples, $26 million in plums, $2 million in strawberries and $1.6 million in pears.
Farmers stand to lose again.
“Obviously China is a big market for us and we are disappointed with the retaliation,” said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission. The tariff will be 15 percent on top of the current 10 percent duty, he said.
All of this comes as farmers and ranchers in the Pacific Northwest who depend on trade have found themselves left out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact and left wondering how they will be impacted by the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
But now the Chinese and the U.S. are talking. Also this week South Korea agreed to a new trade deal to avoid the Trump steel tariffs. So, maybe there’s a method in the administration’s madness and a path to fair and free trade.
Farmers and ranchers already suffering from generally low commodity prices are wise to be wary.