In a recent interview, I reiterated my support for President Trump’s stated objectives on recasting American trade policy. The international trade playing field is fundamentally unfair to the U.S., and many countries have for decades taken advantage of us. It is imperative that the administration seek fairer trade agreements for American companies — and the millions of Americans who go to work at these companies every day.
As we now see so starkly, the means to achieve this end are causing serious economic turmoil. America is now quite clearly in the midst of a trade war with China, and we are edging closer to more serious conflicts with other nations implementing their own retaliatory tariffs. China and other nations are targeting American farmers, and if this continues for a prolonged period of time, we risk losing established and emerging markets for American fruit, vegetable and tree nut products. Farmers in other countries can and will fill the vacuum left by our trade policies, for most commodities. Once China and other export markets find replacement suppliers, it will be extremely difficult to dislodge them, even after we reach new and presumably fairer trade agreements.
President Trump and his team are well aware of these harsh realities. We have made sure of that. Our urgent plea has been and will continue to be this: We understand and support the administration’s goal to forge new and fairer trade agreements, but those new agreements will only benefit American farmers if they haven’t permanently lost their relationships with foreign buyers.
In other words, we urgently need the administration to drive this process to conclusion quickly.
In the short term, realizing we will never be made whole, we need effective and immediate mitigation of the economic damage being inflicted on our producers. President Trump promised to not let American farmers “be the casualties if this trade dispute escalates.”
Late last month, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced a $12 billion trade mitigation plan. Of the three programs envisioned as part of this relief package, only the Food Purchase and Distribution Program has the potential to deliver some mitigation to the fresh produce industry. Even so, questions remain about how much of the roughly $2.5 billion allocated for this program will go to purchase surplus fruits, vegetables and tree nuts, and how close to regular market values producers will receive for these agricultural goods. There is also the hope that we can receive direct payments as other commodities will.
We’ll keep working with the administration on this as we press for the more critical need: a rapid and successful conclusion to our trade conflicts and the restoration of commerce between American farmers and buyers across the globe.
Tom Nassif is president and CEO of Western Growers.