DAVENPORT — Iowa’s former Democratic governor Tom Vilsack says President Donald Trump overpromised and underdelivered for Iowa farmers impacted by a U.S.-Chinese trade war.
Vilsack also claimed Trump has failed to keep Americans safe and the U.S. economy strong amid a worsening pandemic that’s ravaged Iowa communities now struggling to rebuild from an inland hurricane.
Whereas Vilsack contends Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden promises a trade policy that recognizes the importance of going after China, “in a smart, effective way with the rest of the world, so that China can’t use retaliatory tariffs against our farmers.”
“(Trump) contended he was going to provide the best trade deals possible for farmers,” Vilsack told reporters Wednesday. “The reality is he went against China alone (and) didn’t take the time to develop an alliance of nations being similarly situated and mistreated by the Chinese.”
That resulted in retaliatory tariffs from China on U.S. farm products, steel and aluminum that drastically lowered U.S. corn and soybean exports, increased equipment costs and created crop surpluses that drove down commodity prices.
Vilsack, who served as secretary of agriculture in the Obama-Biden administration, spoke as part of a virtual tour of the state to highlight the Democratic presidential nominee’s commitment to farmers and ethanol producers.
Preya Samsundar, spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, responded via email that “whether it’s ignoring China’s market manipulation or supporting the disastrous NAFTA trade deal, Biden has ignored Iowa farmers and workers.
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“Meanwhile, President Trump has stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Iowans from day one with his tough-on-China agenda and fast-tracking relief for Iowans as natural disasters hit. Iowans know who has their back — and it isn’t Joe Biden.”
While Trump has negotiated a Phase 1 trade deal with China to increase purchases of U.S. farm and manufactured products following a two-year trade war, China is not on track to meet those promises, Vilsack said.
“And, even if they did meet those promises, it would simply get us back to where we were at a time when Joe Biden was vice president,” Vilsack said.
Vilsack also criticized the Trump administration of undermining Iowa’s biofuels industry by granting waivers to oil refiners, exempting them from a federal mandate outlining how many gallons of ethanol and biodiesel they must blend into the nation’s fuel supply each year.
The waivers, he said, further depressed corn prices, allowing China to “manipulate” this trade war and buy corn at “bargain prices.”
Biden and his vice presidential pick, California Sen. Kamala Harris, are “committed to keeping faith with the Renewable Fuel Standard ... and find ways to expand the use of renewable fuels,” Vilsack said.
Vilsack, too, says Biden promises to invest in rural broadband expansion and improve roads, bridges, locks and dams to “allow our farm products to get to market more effectively and efficiently,” saving farmers money.
He added Biden’s economic plan includes provisions calling for expanding payments to farmers engaged in conservation, soil restoration and clean water efforts, as well as expanding help for beginning farmers and “bio-manufacturing.”
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John Deere Seeding plant worker Rob Bern of Rock Island, Ill., who joined Vilsack on the call, said the plant was set to hire more people in anticipation of corn prices of up to $7 a bushel in spring and summer of 2018.
“An then trade tariffs ... kind of ruined all of that,” said Bern, 48. “We are looking a little under $3.50 a bushel right now. And that doesn’t sell a lot of planters. ... We need to have trade agreements that are good trade agreements. We need to have trade agreements that are ... not so haphazard. ... We need to protect our farmers.”
Recent polling suggests that a majority of rural voters, who aided Trump’s 2016 victory, still back the president ahead of the 2020 election, although the percentage may be on the decline.