Farmers who are anxious over growing trade disputes between the United States and some of its major trading partners got some encouraging words last week from Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue.
Last week the Trump administration applied tariffs on Chinese goods in an attempt to reduce the number of finished goods coming into the country. China promptly made good on its threat to retaliate, placing tariffs on pork, poultry, beef, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, soybeans and grains.
The administration placed tariffs on Mexican aluminum and steel. Mexico is retaliating with duties on apples, cranberries and other farm products.
Separately, the U.S. is in the process of renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico — our second- and third-largest trading partners. NAFTA is vital to U.S. agriculture.
Making good on his promise to drop out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, President Trump has not yet negotiated a bilateral deal with Japan, an important market for farmers in the Pacific Northwest.
Agriculture has been generally supportive of Trump. He’s earned high praise for rolling back regulations — particularly Waters of the U.S. — and for generally more ag-friendly forest policies.
But, 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.
So Perdue got an earful when he toured farms in Washington and Oregon last week.
Perdue says he’s pushing for government help for farmers hurt by the spreading trade wars.
“The president says he won’t allow ag producers to bear the brunt of trade disputes,” he said last week on a tour in Washington state. “I’m laying down a marker that we need to resolve it by Labor Day or we need some sort of mitigation.”
That’s all encouraging, even though it’s short on specifics.
While they’ll take the help, farmers would rather sell to trading partners than receive cash assistance checks. And we would be remiss if we did not again remind the administration that this is not what was promised during the campaign.
But, unfolding events can be complicated and rarely conspire with sitting presidents. The plans that come together so well in a stump speech don’t always survive their first contact with real world politics, foreign or domestic.
As the president works to fulfill his promise to negotiate better trade deals with our partners, we are at least encouraged that the administration says it’s not going to hang farmers and ranchers out to dry. We look forward to seeing the details of the “mitigation” Perdue alluded to during his tour.
We hope it doesn’t become necessary. It certainly isn’t a long-term solution for producers in the Northwest. Without trade and the money it generates, many of them will quickly be doing something else for a living.