Op-ed: For farmers, Trump’s tariffs are far worse than any bad trade deal

Source: By Bart Ruth, The Hill • Posted: Thursday, August 9, 2018

For farmers, Trump’s tariffs are far worse than any bad trade deal
As a candidate, Donald Trump promised to open new markets to trade, rein in regulatory overreach, cut government spending, and rebuild infrastructure and communication networks to enable rural America to compete in the global economy.
While there have been some positive changes under President Trump — when it comes to American agriculture, we are headed toward economic disaster.As a sixth-generation farmer and a lifelong Republican, I am alarmed over the impacts that the administration’s actions are having on the agriculture economy and rural America. President Trump has shown a blatant disregard for international institutions, sound science, proven economic theory, and the history of protectionist policy. We have seen this movie before — from the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act in 1930 to the Carter grain embargo after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980. Agriculture suffered greatly from both. The Soviet embargo in particular crippled the ag economy and led to farm foreclosures and bankruptcies across the country throughout the decade.

The president often says that farmers haven’t had it good for the last 15 years — but that’s not right. While we have seen farm incomes fall since 2014, the years from 2007 through 2013 saw record farm incomes. Since the tariff saber rattling began, prices for the corn and soybeans that I produce have dropped by 15 to 20 percent. The good markets I had for biofuel production, animal feed, and exports have been diminished.

The markets that we have nurtured and developed over decades have been decimated by the administration’s tariffs. Having personally been involved in promoting U.S. soybeans in China, Mexico, and around the world, it is heartbreaking to see all that hard work, not to mention farmer- and taxpayer-invested funds, tossed aside due to a flawed protectionist theory. Yes, we have issues with China — but many of those could have been addressed by joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or working with allies within the World Trade Organization (WTO).

We are also seeing potential markets for renewable energy produced in rural America harmed by the United States walking away from the Paris Climate Agreement, by EPA granting renewable fuel waivers, and by the administration’s favoritism toward coal and fossil fuels. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 contributed to those high-profit years for American agriculture, and yet we continue to backslide on its objectives.

After the lack of enthusiastic response from farmers across the country to the proposed $12 billion bailout, the president expressed surprise that we don’t want a government check. That shows how little he understands farmers and rural America in general. We want to be free to produce feed, food, fiber and energy for the world.

If the president were to ask me for advice, I would tell him that farmers should not be used as pawns and negotiating chips in a wider trade war and that the administration should not disrupt what had been an expanding opportunity for U.S. agriculture to compete in global markets.

There is still time to correct these missteps and regain the trust and confidence of the sector that helped propel him into office. The president often says that America’s farmers have been treated badly by our trading partners, but I can think of no treatment worse than the tariffs implemented by our own government.

Bart Ruth is a corn and soybean farmer from Rising City, Nebraska. Ruth is chairman of the 25x25 renewable energy alliance and past president of the American Soybean Association (2001-2002).