Mike Strain in Cuba

Advocate Photo by ELIZABETH CRISP – Louisiana Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain presents one of the trade delegation's hosts a copy of a book about Louisiana cuisine by Chef John Folse.

Elizabeth Crisp

Louisiana voters gave Donald Trump a thumping victory in our state in November's elections. Now, enough time has elapsed to count the ways that the new president has acted against the interest of Louisiana, in just a matter of weeks.

There's trade, or rather the blocking of it. And tariffs, or rather the promotion of them. Also, labor and immigration, tourism, agriculture are all areas where Trump's administration is in its early days signalling opposition, or at least unintended harm, to policies that would help Louisiana's economy.

Among Republican officials in Louisiana who have the most reasons to be concerned about the direction of the new GOP administration is Mike Strain, a veterinarian and head of the state Department of Agriculture and Forestry.

Strain has twice visited Cuba heading trade delegations, including one with Gov. John Bel Edwards. Strain eagerly promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal with free nations around the Pacific Ocean rim. He has, in a national role as head of the states' agriculture secretaries, pushed for investment in basics that only government can provide, like the specialized firefighting teams which are needed to counter forest fires.

Trump is likely to counter these initiatives.

The most obvious challenge is domestic disinvestment. Trump proposes deep cuts in discretionary domestic spending in order to fund military expansion — the latter perhaps needed. But amid record federal debt, will the White House propose to pay for homely domestic tasks like fighting forest fires?

More problematic is trade. Before the Press Club of Baton Rouge on Monday, Strain tried to put the best face on the new administration's about-face from decades of U.S. trade policy.

Alluding to the fact that both presidential candidates opposed the TPP, Strain said it "would not have been ratified anyway." The politics were dicey, but candidate Barack Obama was opposed to trade and then changed his mind in office. Maybe Trump will be so influenced, though positive indicators are few.

But Strain then turned to a lengthy discussion of the economic potential of trade with Cuba. This is not a real reason for optimism; normalization of relations is something to which the new president is cool, at best.

Strain made an unassailable economic case for Louisiana agriculture's potential to provide food and fiber for the long-suffering Cuban people. New Orleans and other Louisiana ports are primed to benefit most from a new opening of Cuba trade, Strain said.

But besides the president's active hostility to trade, there are the endless disparaging comments about the criminal nature of immigrants who are here illegally, and high-profile bans on new visas that could deter visitors. That could hurt tourism from not only Latin America, but also Europe and the Far East. That's bad for Louisiana's vital visitor trade.

Given the president's positions and sometimes incoherent statements, here's the best Strain could do in terms of optimism: "He's a businessman."

"He can read a balance sheet" and trade is vital to agriculture and forestry, the economic mainstays of the rural areas which voted so heavily for the president, Strain said.

There is also mixed within Strain's positive case for trade agreements, particularly in Cuba, an implied warning: "Another country, such as China, becomes a predominant player in that region."

People say that the president is somehow in hock to Russia, but anti-trade politics play into China's hands. With the demise of the TPP, a favorite Trump whipping-boy, China has become more powerful in Asia and the world.

Having outlasted the old Soviet Union's influence in Cuba, is America now going to give up any chance of benefiting from a new opening of the island to the world? What an irony.

Email Lanny Keller at lkeller@theadvocate.com.