This editorial was originally published in The Columbian, Vancouver, Wash.:
The Trump administration recently provided further evidence of the cost of an ongoing trade war with China and the failure of the president’s trade policies.
Federal officials last week announced that $16 billion in payments to farmers hurt by the president’s tariff war will begin soon. This follows
$12 billion in payments from taxpayers last year, adding to the bill Americans are paying for Trump’s wounds to the American economy.
All of this is a result of Trump’s increase on tariffs upon goods from China, which was met by retaliatory tariffs from the Asian nation. The trade war has hurt the world’s two largest economies while thus far producing no positive results. U.S. representatives, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, traveled to China last week for the first high-level face-to-face negotiations in months, but reported little progress.
The hope is that the U.S. can force concessions on trade policy from China, particularly regarding the theft of intellectual property and free markets, but the trade war has had negative consequences that are reflected in the situation facing farmers.
To summarize: Actions by the administration have led Chinese buyers to look elsewhere for soybeans, corn, wheat, cherries, dairy and other products, leading to a decrease in income for American farmers. U.S. farm income fell 16 percent last year compared with 2017. So, American taxpayers are expected to help make up the difference by subsidizing farm income with $28 billion. Even that, however, will not make up for lost markets once sensible trade policy finally prevails.
Meanwhile, Trump has insisted that China is paying the brunt of the tariffs — an assertion disputed by credible economists who point out that tariffs lead to higher prices for consumers of Chinese goods. He also has insisted that farmers are helped by his policies, with a tweet from May 14 reflecting his rhetoric: “Our great Patriot Farmers will be one of the biggest beneficiaries of what is happening now. The Farmers have been ‘forgotten’ for many years. Their time is now!”
After which the Los Angeles Times noted: “The true structure of the farming industry is unappreciated by the average American taxpayer, in part because the Department of Agriculture takes pains to advance the notion of small-holding ‘patriot farmers.’” In truth, large agri-businesses are the primary recipients of Trump’s bailouts, with studies showing that the vast majority of payments go to farms with annual revenues of several million dollars. It also must be mentioned that those large farms typically reside in states that support Trump.
In Washington, an analysis by The Associated Press found that farmers in the state received $50 million from last year’s $12 billion payments. In Clark County, two farms — both dairies — received payments totaling about $28,000.
Agriculture is not the only
industry impacted by the president’s trade war. A report last month from free-trade group Tariffs Hurt the Heartland estimated that the war has cost American consumers $22 billion, a number echoed by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa (whose family farm, by the way, has received mitigation payments). At a Senate committee meeting, Grassley said, “$22 billion out of the pockets of hardworking Americans is not in our national best interest.”
The $28 billion from taxpayers to farmers is a clear example of the damage being done by the trade war. It is long past time for President Trump to put America first when it comes to trade policy.