Though farmers and ranchers have generally supported President Donald Trump, they have continued to suffer from several trade battles initiated by the president.
Trump’s 2016 campaign focused in large part on how existing trade pacts were woefully lopsided in favor of our trading partners. China, with its outsized trade surplus with the U.S., was a favorite target.
Trump targeted that country’s alleged manipulation of its currency and its violation of intellectual property protections. The administration hiked tariffs on Chinese goods to force a change in those policies. China responded with tit-for-tat hikes on U.S. goods.
Farmers and ranchers have taken a big hit. In the Northwest, the tariffs impact the sale of apples, cherries, nuts, wine, spuds, hay and dairy products — all crops that are heavily dependent on the export market.
Negotiations are ongoing and are said to be productive, but no deal has been announced.
Also during the campaign Trump promised to remove the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the multi-lateral trade pact the Obama administration had negotiated with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.
The TPP was also unpopular with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who also said they’d pull out of the pact if they were elected. While not everyone in ag was happy with the agreement, the countries still in the pact represent some of the Northwest’s biggest trade partners and competitors. Being left without an agreement has placed farmers here at a disadvantage.
The bilateral deals the president said would replace TPP have been slow to materialize. But here again, talks with Japan have continued apace on reducing tariffs on agricultural products.
Trump said last week that trade talks with Japan are “moving along very nicely,” raising hope that an agreement could come yet this month.
That would be good news for farmers in the Pacific Northwest.
But it’s unclear whether it will make it past the House of Representatives if the deal requires congressional approval. Democrats controlling the House aren’t in any hurry to hand Trump a victory in the run-up to the 2020 election.
The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the pact Trump negotiated to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, faces an uphill battle in Congress, mostly from Democrats who say the deal doesn’t do enough to protect the environment and the rights of workers.
In a positive sign, two Democratic senators — Oregon’s Ron Wyden and Ohio’s Sherrod Brown — are working on tweaks to USMCA that could make it more palatable to fellow Democrats. Oregon farmers and Ohio auto workers would benefit from a new deal.
In the meantime, administration officials have floated the idea of negotiating changes to the U.S.-Japan trade situation that do not require congressional approval — the Japanese reducing tariffs, for example.
The Trump strategy has yet to yield the promised results. We would hate for the progress that has been made, and Northwest farmers, to be held hostage by Congress and electoral politics.