When we first heard that President Trump had been dismissive of U.S. wheat sales to Japan, we thought perhaps his quotes were taken out of context.
After all, it was only a month ago the president was touting the value of U.S. farmers and the need for our trading partners to buy more U.S. farm products.
But then we got a transcript from the White House and found that, yes, the president had been dismissive of U.S. wheat exports.
Last week Trump visited a Pennsylvania chemical plant to tout energy production and domestic manufacturing. The official event took the tone of a campaign speech, and Trump launched into a standard riff about bad deals with various trading partners, including Japan.
From the transcript:
“I told Prime Minister Abe — great guy — I said, ‘Listen, we have a massive deficit with Japan.’ They send thousands and thousands — millions — of cars. We send them wheat. Wheat. (Laughter) That’s not a good deal. And they don’t even want our wheat. They do it because they want us to at least feel that we’re OK. You know, they do it to make us feel good.”
Add U.S. wheat farmers to the list of Americans who feel zinged by an off-the-cuff presidential remark. They aren’t too happy about it either.
In a statement, the Oregon Wheat Growers League said it was “profoundly disappointed” in Trump’s comments.
“The President’s dismissive statements ... demonstrated that he doesn’t fully appreciate the 70 years of efforts by generations of wheat growers to build the great relationships we have with our customers in Japan,” the league stated in remarks that were reflective of other groups that responded to the Capital Press.
Farm groups we spoke to want the president to know that Japanese buyers do want American wheat.
Japan is the No. 1 market for U.S. wheat, and the No. 2 market for soft white wheat grown in the Pacific Northwest. U.S. wheat has a 50% market share in Japan.
“Our customers in Japan don’t buy our wheat because they are doing us a favor or to make us feel good, they buy our wheat because we have built a relationship with them, earned their trust, listened to their needs, and provided great customer service,” the league stated.
The Japanese buy a lot of U.S. products, not just wheat. At about $700 million in sales, wheat accounts for just 1% of the dollar volume of exports to Japan, according to Politifacts.com. The Japanese bought $2.8 billion worth of corn last year.
We hope the president has better command of the facts and was trying to make a bigger point about trade imbalances. But in using wheat exports as a laugh line, Trump was dismissive of U.S. wheat producers — people who have generally been supportive.
It doesn’t seem to us that tearing away at a successful venture is the way to build better trade relations.
But maybe that’s a tactic from the “Art of the Deal” that we’ve overlooked.