Trade war

Cargo containers at the Port of Tacoma in Washington state, where many of the crops from Oregon and the rest of the Pacific Northwest are loaded for export to destinations such as Japan and China. On Tuesday, Nov. 5, the Commerce Department reports on the U.S. trade gap for September.

Last week Oregon Director of Agriculture Alexis Taylor delivered a sobering report to members of the state Legislature.

The message: Farmers in Oregon — and everywhere else in the nation — are caught in the crossfire of the trade wars, and they’re being hurt.

“Really, to have a strong Oregon economy, we need to have a strong ag economy. To have a strong ag economy, we need to have strong export markets,” Taylor told the House Agriculture and Land Use Committee.

The unanswered question: When, exactly, will the Trump administration and Congress be able to wrap up new trade deals with Mexico, Canada, China and Japan?

The U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement is an upgrade of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but so far Congress hasn’t approved it. It’s as though House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others in the Democratic party are afraid to do anything that might make President Donald Trump look good.

The need to negotiate and approve other new treaties with China and Japan is immediate.

In China, the situation is grim. Tariffs top 50% on fresh U.S. apples and cherries. For hazelnuts, the effective duty is 81.5%, according to Michael Severeid, vice president of sales and marketing for Willamette Hazelnut Growers. About 90% of Oregon’s hazelnut production is exported, and they face stiff competition from nations such as Turkey.

Oregon wheat growers have lost an estimated $340 million in sales — so far, according to Blake Rowe, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Growers League.

The Trump administration needs to work out a deal with China, and now. Every day, week or month of delay is hurting U.S. farmers. For example, shipments of Oregon cherries to China are down by half in the past two years, costing $86 million, Taylor told the legislators.

A deal is also desperately needed with Japan, one of the biggest markets for U.S. agriculture.

Unfortunately, a Japanese official told our Tokyo correspondent not to expect any better deals on agricultural commodities than the ones included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty, which the president tossed in the trash can his first week on the job.

In the meantime, wheat farmers and ranchers who produce beef are seeing their market share in Japan evaporate. TPP guarantees lower tariffs on wheat and beef produced by Canada and Australia than on U.S. products.

For example, Japan’s tariff on beef from Canada and Australia will drop to 9% by 2033 under TPP, said Jerome Rosa, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. During that same time, the tariff on U.S. beef will stay at 38.5%.

Our hope is that Trump will get all of his trade deals buttoned up soon, and that Congress will overlook the politics of the moment and approve them.

America’s farmers and ranchers are depending on them.

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