Back in Iowa recently, former governor and current U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad said farmers caught in the crossfire of a widening trade war should take “the long view.”
Maybe that’s because the view confronting farmers right now, up close, looks so ominous.
President Donald Trump’s administration has slapped billions of dollars in tariffs on Chinese imports to the United States. China has retaliated with a salvo of its own tariffs, aimed at commodities such as soybeans and pork, products that form the backbone of Iowa’s agricultural economy.
Soybean prices are dropping. Pork producers are bracing for more retaliation. An already stormy economic picture for agriculture has darkened considerably. Some are invoking memories of the farm crisis that jolted Iowa in the 1980s.
Branstad was governor during that crisis, and drew national attention for his sharp criticism of the Reagan administration’s failures in addressing the downturn and its dire effects. Now, Branstad is praising the Trump administration’s “strong stand” against long-simmering trade disputes with China.
So much for the hope Ambassador Branstad could steer his boss away from decisions that harm Iowa. Meanwhile, the administration is spinning.
“I just want to assure all my friends in Iowa and all across the region, under President (Donald) Trump’s leadership, we are always going to stand with American farmers,” Vice President Mike Pence said last week while visiting Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids.
Too bad Pence didn’t sit down with Iowa farmers to hear their concerns.
Fact is, there were and are ways to address those legitimate disputes with China without putting farmers in the middle of a great power trade war.
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The United States could have stuck with the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, rallied its trading partners in Asia and around the globe and placed significant economic pressure on China to do the right thing on intellectual property and other issues. Instead of leading a united front, Trump tore up the TPP and has pursued a bellicose, unilateral path that that’s left a trail of alienated allies.
And the “long view” hardly looks rosy. In the case of soybeans, China might turn to new markets, potentially damaging access to China for U.S. farmers for years to come. Trade agreements such as NAFTA also hang in the balance as Trump pushes our partners for changes. Those negotiations are creating another layer of uncertainty for Iowa’s producers and manufacturers.
The Trump administration must change course, before severe and permanent damage is done to agriculture and other economic sectors caught in the president’s misguided war. Because for farmers, being pushed toward the brink, there might be no long view.
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