Some US farmers can no longer grin and bear tariffs

By China Daily: US Edition

At a rally in Tampa, Florida, on July 31, US President Donald Trump defended his trade policies, saying, “China and others have targeted our farmers. … And you know what our farmers are saying? ‘It’s OK. We can take it.'”

In tune with his plea a week before to farmers to “be a little patient”, Trump continued, “You’re going to make it back, and it’s going to be made back faster than anybody would know.”

It might be true that some US farmers have thrown support to the president in the hope that his brinkmanship will ultimately bring them promised benefits. But more and more farmers and their lobbyists believe that Trump’s tariff tactics hurt, and it is more than they “can take”.

Christopher Gibbs, an Ohio farmer and Trump voter, was quick to point out that the pie in the sky may never materialize.

“Hope is not a marketing plan. Hope is not a business plan. And I know you know that,” Gibbs said in a video message to Trump on Aug 2.

In March, the price of soybeans was $10.50 a bushel. Today, it’s $8.50 a bushel, down by 20 percent, Gibbs said in a clip on The New York Times.

“I have to tell you, Mr President, this hurts. This is hurting our long-term future,” he said. “Whether it’s transportation, whether it’s production, whether it’s the clerk at the grocery store, when agriculture gets sick, everybody feels that kind of pain.”

China is the US’ top destination for agricultural products. On soybeans alone, China imported 31 percent of US production in 2017 last year, equal to 60 percent of total US exports and nearly 1 in every 3 rows of harvested beans in the country, according to American Soybean Association statistics.

Gibbs and many analysts believe that the Trump administration’s tariff rhetoric serves only to tear down the agricultural markets that US farmers built for decades, in addition to increasing uncertainty in the market.

Trump escalated trade tensions between the world’s top two economies on Aug 1 by threatening to double tariffs on Chinese goods, following hefty duties on Chinese imports in June and some more in a few weeks.

In response, China retaliated in June with 25 percent tariffs on American goods, including soybeans. It vowed last week to slap tariffs of between 5 percent to 25 percent on additional US imports, including agricultural products.

Trump, in a speech in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 24, acknowledged the US agriculture industry’s extensive efforts to persuade him to change course.

“They have some of the greatest lobbying teams ever put together,” he said.

Despite their failure, the lobbying groups are resilient.

Farmers for Free Trade, a non-profit dedicated to supporting and expanding export opportunities for American farms and ranches, announced a multimillion-dollar campaign, “Tariffs Hurt the Heartland”, to highlight how tariffs are affecting rural America.

On Aug 3, the day China announced its plan for additional retaliatory tariffs on US imports, including agricultural products, Farmers for Free Trade spokesman Scott Henry said, “Our patience is wearing thin.”

The Iowa soybean farmer is worried that US farmers may lose the Chinese market for good, saying in a statement that China is “encouraging domestic planting, looking to alternative feed sources, and ramping up imports from Brazil, Canada, and Russia”.

“As farmers head into a harvest and borrowing season that could make or break family farms, they want to know two things: When will this trade war end, and when are we going to get back in the business of opening markets to Made in America exports?” he said.

Americans for Farmers & Families, another industry group, said China’s announcement shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone – it’s déjàvu all over again.

“If trade tensions continue to escalate at this rate, the US and China will inevitably hit a point of no return – upending access to one of the biggest customers of American products in the world and causing irreparable damage to our livelihoods, families and economy,” Casey Guernsey, spokesman for the group’s “Retaliation Hurts Rural Families” initiative, said on Aug 3.

The stories and statements can go on and on about US farmers opposing trade wars and saying anything but “we can take it”.

Contact the writer at huanxinzhao@chinadailyusa.com

This article provided by NewsEdge.