Spotlight: Trump's China tariffs put American farming circles in fear

Source: Xinhua| 2018-03-29 12:00:52|Editor: Xiang Bo
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By Peter Mertz

DENVER, the United States, March 28 (Xinhua) -- From America's heartland to Coastal California and even the deep, steamy south, American conservatives and liberals alike voiced alarm at President Donald Trump's recent hardline trade tactics.

"Almost unanimous concern," said Andrew Jerome from the National Farmers Union (NFU) that represents more than 200,000 family farms and ranches across the country and has chapters in 33 states.

NFU members supported Trump's "America First" trade stance in the 2016 presidential elections and were hoping the new president would offer relief to an industry reeling from a quarter-century of declining profits.

They were wrong.


"(Trump) doesn't have a well-disciplined, thoughtful, or remotely consistent trade policy," said John K. Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, which represents over 4,000 family farm and ranch families in the vast Midwestern.

Hansen, who worked for the Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama administrations as a trade adviser, told Xinhua that "the way (Trump) is going about correcting the trade imbalance with China is unfortunate."

Despite strong warnings from business groups and trade experts, Trump signed a memorandum last week that could impose tariffs on up to 60 billion U.S. dollars of imports from China and place restrictions on Chinese investments in the United States.

Calling these measures "a very bad precedent," China's Ministry of Commerce issued a warning the following day, saying that such a move would be against "the interests of China, the United States and the world at large."

It also announced a plan for reciprocal tariffs on imported U.S. products worth about 3 billion dollars to balance losses caused by U.S. metal restrictions on China signed by Trump early this month.

The measures, or the suspension of tariff concessions, will target 128 U.S. products, including pork, wine and seamless steel tubes.

Trump's proposed 25-percent tariff on steel imports and a 10-percent one on aluminum caused stocks to tumble, American economic allies to object, and U.S. farmers to look toward the heavens for relief.

"At least Clinton, Obama and Bush were pretty consistent and worked with a unified voice," Hansen said. "That's the opposite of this administration."

Bucking the president's plan, Republican U.S. Senator Ben Sasse told the conservative World-Herald newspaper last week that "My message on trade wars is simple. This is going to hurt Nebraskans, it's going to hurt farmers and ranchers, and it's going to kill jobs," Sasse said.

Nebraska, nicknamed the "Cornhusker State," is one of America's top four states in agricultural production, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

"Family farmers and ranchers are always the first to be hit by retaliatory tariffs, and in the case of China, significant export markets are likely to be the first casualty," said Jerome, who called Trump's pending trade moves "dangerous."

Despite both political parities shouting "no," White House officials staunchly defend the brash plan, saying it will be enacted this week,

"The president must have a plan in place to protect family farmers before seeking to remedy unfair trade practices," Hansen said.

More than 90 percent of America's 2.1 million farms are small, family operations that produce nearly half of the industry's 140 billion dollars export trade to the U.S. economy, according to the USDA.


Jerome likened America's 45th president's trade policy to a "bull in a china shop," saying that "I don't think Trump would have proposed these tariffs if he had known what the Chinese might do in retaliation."

Jerome told Xinhua that his industry is on the front line of a retaliatory strike and the hardest hit will be grain, wine, fruit and pork sectors.

With East coast state North Carolina being America's No. 2 pork producer, and California harvesting more grapes for wine than the rest of the country combined, China's proposed retaliatory tariff has shocked farmers from coast to coast.

"Farming is historically the backbone of America, and in colonial times 90 percent of all Americans were farmers," said California businessman Glenn Nemhauser.

But the income of farms has not kept pace with the cost of living and is comparable to 1973 income levels, since the controversial 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), according to Hansen.

"The average farm family doesn't make enough money to feed their own family," Hansen said.

Following guidelines imposed by the World Trade Organization (WTO), NAFTA, which sought to create an even playing field for farmers in America, Canada and Mexico, has caused "economic suicide" in America, said Hansen, a sixth generation Nebraska farmer and Washington trade insider.

"We are an economic driver," said Hansen, whose Norwegian ancestors moved to Nebraska in 1905 and started a family farm that has endured for 113 years.

"We are the producers on the ground. We create jobs, and we create new wealth," he said, adding that "We are not happy now."

California's 45-billion-dollar agricultural industry, which includes nuts, dairy products, fruits, produce, livestock feed and wine, may be hardest hit overall by the possible retaliatory tariffs.

"California has become a major rice producing state, which we export to China and other Asian countries. That may stop as well," said San Francisco businessman Glenn Nemhauser.

KEY WORDS: tariffs