News on two trade issues important to farmers came out of last week’s G-20 summit in Argentina.
President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a 90-day truce in the ongoing trade war between the world’s two largest economies.
Though the details of this arrangement are vague, the two sides coming back to the negotiating table is good news for U.S. farmers and ranchers who have billions of dollars riding on trade with China.
Trump’s 2016 campaign focused in large part on how existing trade pacts were woefully lopsided in favor of our trading partners. China, and its outsized trade surplus with the U.S., was a favorite target.
Trump has long alleged that China manipulates its currency to advance its sales abroad. There are also questions surrounding China’s handling of intellectual property issues.
The U.S. recently implemented tariffs on $200 billion worth of products from China, which led to retaliatory tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. goods targeting agriculture.
U.S. 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. Shipments of Midwestern soybeans to China have all but stopped.
The tit-for-tat tariffs were set to increase next month. While the current cease fire does nothing to ameliorate the punishing rates now in effect, those rates won’t increase and no new duties will be imposed for the next three months.
China has promised to buy “a very substantial” amount of U.S. goods, including soybeans and other agricultural products.
Observers on both sides of the Pacific say the promises are vague and don’t address the biggest areas of disagreement.
But talking is better than not talking. It’s possible negotiations will give each side sufficient grounds to justify standing down.
Also at the summit, Trump said he was formally notifying Canada and Mexico that the U.S. is withdrawing from the North America Free Trade Agreement.
A replacement for NAFTA has already been negotiated — the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement. It was signed by Trump, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at the summit.
Trump says Congress can either pass the new treaty or let trade with Mexico and Canada revert to pre-NAFTA rules.
Not so fast. While Trump can notify our partners that the U.S. is pulling out of NAFTA, Congress passed legislation enacting the deal. Until Congress repeals that law and replaces it with legislation enacting USMCA, NAFTA remains the law of the land.
With Democrats taking over the House in January, it’s not clear what path the new deal will take. Some Democrats want to rewrite sections of the new agreement. It’s unlikely they want to hand Trump a clear victory.
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U.S. farmers and ranchers need favorable trade deals. They need them now.
Producers rightfully worry that the trade relationships they have worked so hard to develop will be lost. That would be a catastrophe.