National press reports last week indicated that new trade talks between the United States and China were to take place this week in Shanghai.
According to Politico, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer was to meet with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He and Commerce Minister Zhong Shan. At particular issue is getting China to buy more U.S. agricultural goods, a promise Chinese President Xi Jinping made to President Trump in a bid to get trade talks between the countries going again.
At this writing, those talks are still ongoing and no announcement has been made indicating their status. Regardless, we see resumption of negotiations as a positive thing.
Trump targeted that country’s alleged manipulation of its currency and its violation of intellectual property protections. The administration hiked tariffs on Chinese goods to force a change in those policies. China responded with tit-for-tat hikes on U.S. goods.
The U.S. has legitimate issues with China that need to be addressed. But at the same time it has to be acknowledged that China has been a good customer of U.S. agricultural goods. In 2017 it bought $23.8 billion in U.S. farm products — 17% of U.S. ag exports.
Farmers and ranchers have taken a big hit. Midwestern soybean farmers and pork producers felt the pain early, but the impacts have become far more widespread. In the Northwest, Chinese retaliatory tariffs impact the sale of apples, cherries, nuts, wine, potatoes, hay and dairy products — all crops that are heavily dependent on the export market.
Beyond the loss of the immediate sale, producers are watching competitors claim market share. With a new crop coming on, producers across the region are worried that even if the current trade hostilities end quickly their buyers will have found new suppliers.
Since the early days of the campaign the president has promised new and better trade deals for American products. That has yet to be the case. We suspect that negotiating with sovereign powers has proven more difficult than was originally thought. At the same time, the stakes are higher and more far reaching than any deal to build a golf course, high rise or casino.
We don’t doubt that the president is a first rate multi-tasker, but we’d like him to concentrate less on the perceived disloyalty of certain members of Congress or the rodent population of Baltimore and more on getting a deal for U.S. farmers.