Small farmers will be hurt worst as U.S. trade disputes play out, the head of Washington’s agriculture department says.
“They’ve got a lot of costs sunk already into their crop of cherries or apples or whatever, because they’ve already made the decision to do the pruning, spraying, picking and packing costs,” Washington State Department of Agriculture director Derek Sandison told the Capital Press. “Now they’re at the mercy of the prices out there, what people will pay for it in an environment where some of our largest markets are essentially not available, or only available if we’re willing to accept most of the tariffs.”
In short-term retaliatory tariffs, agriculture tends to be disproportionately affected, Sandison said.
“As an industry, agriculture bears the brunt of these disputes and disruptions,” he said.
He and others from his department have traveled to Washington, D.C., to talk to members of Congress, the House and Senate agriculture committees, the departments of State and Commerce, USDA and the U.S. trade representative to emphasize the ramifications of current trade disputes and importance of a rapid resolution, Sandison said.
The USDA will provide reports around Sept. 4 on the financial impacts felt since the tariffs went into effect in July, Sandison said. A team of economists is working to segregate normal price fluctuations in the market from tariff-related impacts.
“There’s the immediate, short-term impacts associated with retaliatory tariffs, then you have longer-term impacts associated with Pacific Rim country agreements that we’re not part of,” Sandison said. “We’ll feel those over the next several years.”
Sandison is the chairman of marketing and international trade committee for the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, which will meet Sept. 9-12 in Hartford, Conn.
Virtually every state is affected, Sandison said.
“This is a very fluid, dynamic situation,” Sandison said. “You could have changes in relationships with the individual countries we’re having the tariff issues with overnight. We just don’t know.”
Particularly with China, it’s hard to predict when a substantial breakthrough might occur, Sandison said.
“We have no idea,” he said.
President Donald Trump said this week his administration is still working on a rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico but previously told the head of the House Agriculture Committee he is working on bilateral agreements with the two nations.
Trump recently met with the European Union president, who promised to negotiate an agreement, particularly benefiting U.S. soybeans.
Sandison said he’s heard that a deal with Mexico is “apparently very close,” but has not seen a lot of progress with Canada.
Sandison traveled to Japan in June with Ted McKinney, USDA under secretary of agriculture for trade and foreign agricultural affairs, meeting with the Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
“They did not hold out much hope for a bilateral,” Sandison said. “We think there’s a lot of progress that needs to be made.”
Canada and Japan are the top two purchasers of agricultural and food products from Washington, Sandison said.
“So those two countries, we would like to see more substantive progress with respect to getting our issues resolved and better trade re-established,” he said.