Staff Editorial

Deal or no deal? Trump prematurely claims trade war victory

Meagan Kaiser pulled up a soybean plant to show to a Chinese trade delegation during a tour of the Kaiser farm near Norborne, Missouri, on August 28, 2018. (Dave Kaup/Reuters)
Meagan Kaiser pulled up a soybean plant to show to a Chinese trade delegation during a tour of the Kaiser farm near Norborne, Missouri, on August 28, 2018. (Dave Kaup/Reuters)
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President Donald Trump last week claimed one of his most coveted policy achievements. The North American Free Trade Agreement — the object of so much of Trump’s scorn in international trade discussions — is on the way out, he told us, soon to be replaced by a new U.S.-Mexico trade agreement.

The White House released a short video of Trump on a conference call with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in which Trump said not much at all.

“This is something that’s very special for our manufacturers and our farmers from both countries, for all the people who work, for jobs,” Trump said.

Trump administration officials issued some details about the Mexico deal, but by the end of the week, major uncertainty still loomed. It’s not clear Trump’s deal will have enough support to win approval from Congress. And leaders in Canada — a party to NAFTA and the United States’ second-largest trade partner — were not part of the most recent talks, and have not signaled their support for the deal.

As the trade war drags on, the Trump team insists everything is hunky dory in the agriculture world. They say farmers are patriots who are willing to eat short-term losses for the good of the country. A $4.7 billion farmer support package announced this week is supposed to ease the pain, for now at least.

The word from farmers is a bit different. Many have said they would much prefer fair access to global markets over an expensive federal subsidy.

Farmers for Free Trade, a bipartisan group that has emerged as an important balance to Trump’s everything-is-fine rhetoric, issued a statement in response to the Mexico announcement. They say more details are needed and Canada must be part of the deal.

“American farmers know better than most that a deal isn’t done until the ink is dry and all parties have agreed,” Brian Kuehl, Farmers for Free Trade director, said in a statement.

This appears to be yet another Trump ploy to earn undue credit. The administration has made a habit of declaring victory while the clock still is running, especially when it comes to the big “deals” Trump is so fond of.

Recall this past July, when federal officials trumpeted the big news they reached a deal to work toward zero tariffs with Europe.

In reality, negotiators had only agreed to negotiate. More than a month later, no deal yet exists.

Americans still have no clear idea what the federal government’s path to a trade war victory is. There’s little sign that the president’s general views about trade — that trade wars are easy, and free trade deals are bad — have shifted.

Just this week, after announcing the prospective Mexico trade deal, Trump posted on Twitter, “I smile at Senators and others talking about how good free trade is for the U.S. What they don’t say is that we lose Jobs and over 800 Billion Dollars a year on really dumb Trade Deals.”

Those “others” he mentions include an overwhelming number of Iowa farmers and manufacturers who fundamentally disagree with Trump’s vision of economic protectionism. We in Iowa have seen the enormous value those open markets and multilateral agreements like NAFTA — those “really dumb Trade Deals” — have created.

As long as Trump clings to outdated and widely discredited theories about global economics, no meaningful deal will be struck.

• Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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