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Our view: Trade a make-or-break issue for Trump

Agriculture sees some good in Trump, but until he shows more progress on trade the jury will be out.

Published on January 22, 2018 5:47PM

President Donald Trump hands an executive order to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, right, after reading it at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual convention Monday, Jan. 8, in Nashville, Tenn.

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

President Donald Trump hands an executive order to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, right, after reading it at the American Farm Bureau Federation annual convention Monday, Jan. 8, in Nashville, Tenn.


Many people in agriculture find something to like about President Donald Trump.

The way the president and his Cabinet have pumped the brakes on ever-expanding regulations is enough to show U.S. farmers and ranchers that their interests are being taken seriously in how the federal government manages resources.

The encyclopedic Waters of the U.S. rules were a good example of how regulation writers can spin out of control. By the time the rules were written, they had created more problems than they solved, and farmers and ranchers were worried that any pothole on their property could be regulated.

Other regulations written by the Obama administration had sent a lightning bolt of concern through farmers and ranchers as they worried how much the federal government would intrude on their livelihood.

But there remains an undercurrent of concern about Trump and his administration: trade.

And for many in agriculture, trade isn’t an issue — it’s the issue.

About 90 percent of the wheat grown in the Northwest is sold to customers in Asia and elsewhere. Dairy, cattle and pork producers rely on exports. So do almond and hazelnut growers and apple, cherry and other tree fruit growers. In fact, if it’s grown in the West, odds are much of it is sold overseas.

To do that, farmers, ranchers and processors rely on treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA includes Canada and Mexico. Together, those nations bought $39 billion in U.S. agricultural products last year. The treaty has opened many doors for U.S. farmers and ranchers.

Last year, the U.S. posted an overall agricultural trade surplus of $21.3 billion worldwide.

Other U.S. industries did not fare as well under NAFTA, so the administration has set about renegotiating it.

Agriculture’s plea: Do no harm.

During the campaign, Trump and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, took turns bashing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which included 11 other nations, including Canada, Mexico and another huge customer, Japan, which bought $11.8 billion in U.S. agricultural crops and goods last year.

What neither candidate apparently didn’t realize was that agriculture needs free trade, the more the better. Without an agreement, tariffs and other roadblocks put U.S. farmers and ranchers at a disadvantage.

Trump has promised a better NAFTA and individual trade agreements with TPP partners. Progress has also been made with China, which last year bought $22 billion in U.S. agricultural crops and goods, making it our biggest foreign customer. But the failure of TPP allows China to become the leader on trade across the Pacific.

Agriculture sees some good in Trump. He’s tossed overwrought and underthought regulations into the waste bin. He has also offered hope for an industry that has struggled against public misperceptions.

But until he shows significant progress on trade, agriculture will be forced to withhold final judgment on his administration.

For Trump and agriculture, trade is a make-or-break issue.



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