The potential long-term effects of President Donald Trump’s agriculture agenda are coming into focus, and the outlook is not good.
In the coming months, the Trump administration plans to spend $16 billion as part of a project to assist farmers affected by disputes with the United States’ global trading partners. That’s in addition to $12 billion dedicated last year to the “Market Facilitation Program.”
Iowa farmers received $321 million in federal subsidies under that program during the first three months of this year, Gazette journalists Erin Jordan and Grace King reported this week.
While those payments helped some farmers remain financially viable in the short-term, a stopgap solution is no substitute for healthy trade relationships.
Trump was elected on promises to get tough with America’s trade partners, especially China, which has violated intellectual property rights and manipulated its money supply. Rising trade barriers imposed by Trump, and China’s corresponding retaliatory tariffs have made it difficult or uneconomical for Iowans to sell food to the world’s largest nation.
After Trump announced plans for another 10 percent tariff on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods this month, Chinese government officials announced they will no longer buy agricultural products from U.S. producers. China is now building relationships with other nations’ growers.
The Trump administration later said it would delay the new round of tariffs for several months, but there still is no clear path to a satisfying resolution to Trump’s trade disputes.
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“Will they start buying soybeans from us again or is that market just gone?” one farmer said in an interview with The Gazette.
Indeed, these problems are unlikely to simply go away, even if Trump changes course on trade policy, or if Americans elect a new president next year.
Trump also has stirred farmers’ anxiety on a separate issue. The administration recently approved biofuel waivers for 31 oil refineries, which diminishes demand for corn-based ethanol, and could negate any gains from the deregulation of E15 fuel.
The leader of the Renewable Fuels Association called the waivers “unfathomable and utterly reprehensible.”
Trump is campaigning for reelection under the slogan “promises kept.” Indeed, he was explicit during his 2016 campaign that he planned to start trade wars, and hinted he would seek ways to support oil refiners at the expense of ethanol producers.
Despite those warning signs, Trump won Iowa by a sizable margin in the general election. If Trump hopes to maintain Iowans’ support in 2020, he must offer a better agriculture plan than perpetual bailouts.
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