It’s down on the farm, where Tariff Man — as the president of the United States referred to himself — is having a singularly bad impact on Louisiana’s leading agricultural export to China, soybeans.
While it’s been a rainy season for a major Pointe Coupee producer, John Good has always been able to mitigate weather losses with soybean sales, typically to China, where most Louisiana soybeans are sold.
“I probably have one of the best crops I’ve ever had as far as yield,” Good said. “It was the biggest disaster I’ve ever had as far as trying to sell them.”
The soybean farmer is one of America’s victims of the needless and so far mostly destructive trade war with China and other major trading partners of the United States.
Donald Trump's trade policy in a sentence: "None of this stuff is good."
China has dramatically reduced its imports since tacking a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans in retaliation to the Trump administration's tariffs against Chinese products. A truce, worked out between the U.S. and China at the G-20 summit in Argentina, puts in place a 90-day pause on any new tariffs but has no effect on tariffs in place that already have affected soybean farmers.
Agricultural experts say the result, complicated by the bad weather, has been one of the more disastrous years for Louisiana farmers.
State officials are seeking disaster aid for weather-related losses and President Trump’s administration — in an odd nod to arch-Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt — has resurrected a Depression-era program for farmers hurt by the trade war.
We’re far along this dreary road now, but the counterfactual discussion is worth having: What would have happened if Tariff Man had not acted as he did?
Prices of everything from cars to dishwashers might not have been affected by steel tariffs, for example. Farmers might have still had bad weather with which to contend. But the taxpayer would have been spared new taxes on buying durable goods using steel; after all, a tariff is a tax on imports, nothing else.
And the taxpayer might also have been spared the $12 billion in farm aid under the old FDR program that a Republican administration, of all things, is using to try to soften the impact of its trade policies.
The result is that Louisiana farmers have scrambled for alternative markets, with Mexico picking up some more of our product, but it hasn’t been nearly enough to stem the losses for the soybean farmers.
Maybe, if tariffs had not been the bludgeon of choice, a new administration might have more aggressively contested Chinese trade policies in the World Trade Organization. That’s a sort of international trade court where challenges to unfair practices can be made.
The United States has won more times than it has lost in the WTO.
Yet the escalation to tariff battles clearly is damaging to both U.S. producers, like our soybean farmers, and to our consumers, who pay higher prices for products built with imported steel.
This has been in no one’s best interests. Let us hope that the “pause” in the tariff wars turns into a “rewind” button on national trade policy.
In a normal year, John Good can easily handle a rainy harvest season for his 1,300 acres of soybeans in Pointe Coupee Parish.