Trade outlook offers glimmer of hope for farmers

Farmers worry that the trade relationships they have worked so hard to cultivate will be lost because of President Donald Trump's trade policies.

Last week Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue released details of the administration’s response to trade damages from retaliatory tariffs by China and other countries.

The plan includes nearly $4.7 billion in direct payments to producers harmed, more than $1.2 billion in government food purchases and $200 million to develop foreign markets.

It is, at best, a stop-gap measure. Assistance checks and government purchases are not a replacement for stable export markets. We urge the administration to make good on its campaign promises and reach fair agreements with our major trading partners.

American farmers and ranchers export $135 billion in products each year. They have a lot riding on trade and are feeling more than a little nervous.

One of the central themes of Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency was that the United States was not well served by its many trade agreements.

It was a message that resonated with manufacturers, farmers, union workers and the creators of intellectual property — none of whom can survive without trade, all of whom find themselves perpetually challenged by trade.

People have been complaining about various provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement since the first President Bush negotiated it and President Clinton signed it. China’s manipulation of its currency and its lax enforcement of patents have tested administrations since trade relations opened up in 1979. Dealings with the European Union and its byzantine bureaucracy have always been vexing.

And all of the candidates — Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Trump — said they’d pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the big 12-party deal among all of our big Pacific Rim trading partners, with the exception of China.

It should not have come as a surprise that President Trump sought to redress these grievances.

What has been surprising is that he has chosen to fight all of our best trading partners at once.

We are out of TPP, we’ve slapped tariffs on China and a host of other partners, NAFTA has been blown apart.

And while he has followed through on his promises to extricate the United States from unfair trade deals, Trump has fallen woefully short on delivering better replacements.

There could be some progress in the offing.

Even as Perdue was announcing the details of the aid package, the president was announcing that the United States and Mexico had reached an agreement to replace NAFTA. It is unclear at this writing whether the Canadians will join in the rewritten agreement.

Nonetheless, the trade situation continues to hang heavy over farmers. They rightfully worry that the trade relationships they have worked so hard to develop will be lost if tensions are not soon eased.

Farmers and ranchers would rather sell to trading partners than receive cash assistance checks.

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