China trade pact is needed soon

USDA’s support for farmers is welcome for now

The ongoing negotiations between the United States and China regarding trade policies has created major difficulties for our nation’s farmers. In response to tariffs imposed by the U.S., the Chinese government has imposed a variety of retaliatory measures targeting American farmers. As a consequence, what were once robust and growing exports to China of corn, soybeans, beef and pork have slowed and their long-term prospects are in doubt.

President Donald Trump has indicated that he expects the slowing of agricultural sales to China to be a temporary problem. He has said that once a trade agreement between the U.S. and China is achieved that market for American products should not only rebound, but also should expand. To limit the negative short-term consequences for our farmers as talks continue, the president directed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to develop a relief strategy for them. A substantial budget of $16 billion has been made available for this project.

On July 25, Perdue released the details of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s game plan. It includes three components: A Market Facilitation Program, a Food Purchase and Distribution Program and an Agricultural Trade Promotion Program.

“China and other nations have not played by the rules for a long time, and President Trump is the first president to stand up to them and send a clear message that the United States will no longer tolerate unfair trade practices,” Secretary Perdue said in a statement about this initiative. “The details we announced … ensure farmers will not stand alone in facing unjustified retaliatory tariffs while President Trump continues working to solidify better and stronger trade deals around the globe. … Our farmers work hard, are the most productive in the world, and we aim to match their enthusiasm and patriotism as we support them.”

We agree with the president that new trade arrangements with China are needed. While this is being negotiated, the temporary help for farmers is necessary and welcome. It is, however, no substitute for making rapid progress to finalize a long-term trade pact with China. That point was made forcefully by Mike Naig, Iowa’s secretary of agriculture, on the day Perdue released information about the USDA’s plans.

“We appreciate efforts by President Trump and the USDA to support farmers in Iowa and around the country that have been affected by trade disruption,” Naig said. “As I travel the state the message from farmers is loud and clear: we want trade not aid.”

The Messenger strongly agrees. Beyond subsidies, our farmers need more certainty about the prospects for future agricultural exports to China so they can plan appropriate marketing strategies for their products. It’s crucial that the president and his team make prompt completion of a trade deal with China a top priority.

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