A key part of President Trump’s first term on Monday was the US-China trade war. After more than a year of tit-for-tat tariff negotiations, the two leaders reached the first phase of the trade agreement in January 2020 after China pledged to buy an additional $12.5 billion worth of U.S. agricultural products this year “depending on market conditions.” But according to recent data, China has bought only a fraction of those commitments.
That is why Blake Hurst, the director of the Missouri Agriculture Department and a soybean farmer, said Mr Trump’s rating on trade was “incomplete”. “We have changed the way we deal with China,” says Mr Hirst. “We have exported almost nothing to China for two years. The situation has improved this year since the signing of the first phase of the agreement, but we are still far from fulfilling China’s commitments under the first phase of the agreement.”
The Peterson Institute for International Economics calculates that In terms of US exports and Chinese imports, Chinese purchases in the first nine months of 2020 will be about 53 per cent of the target so far this year.
Starting in early 2018, Mr. Trump imposed tariffs on Chinese goods in retaliation for what he called unfair trade practices, such as intellectual property theft. China responded with retaliatory tariffs, and the two countries began imposing tit-for-tat tariffs the following year.
Trump used USDA assistance to create a farmer relief program, but the results have been devastating for American farmers, who rely on China to buy many of their produce, soybeans being the most popular. The U.S. farm bankruptcy rate rose 20 percent in 2019 to an eight-year high. A total of 595 family farmers have filed for bankruptcy protection, according to U.S. court data.
Despite trade issues and the economic impact, farmers have largely supported Trump in the 2020 presidential election (though a survey of 500 farmers nationwide by the DTN/Progressive Farmer found support declined slightly in August).
“On the export side, we are a little bit better than we were three years ago, but not very much, so he may have played a role and in the long run he may have improved the situation, but it’s too early to tell,” said Hirst.
Hearst, like many other farmers, wants the President to get tough with China and not lead to an all-out trade war. “I think it is possible to take tough action against China without immediately imposing retaliatory tariffs on agriculture, and that is what we are seeing,” said Hurst.
Darin Von Rudin, President of the Wisconsin Farmers’ Union, had previously said farmers would be more optimistic about the prospects for stability and the leverage that would come from “starting to work more closely with our Allies, rather than driving them away” if Joe Biden were elected President. On the other hand, he thinks farmers will become more pessimistic about a comprehensive trade deal with China if Mr Trump is re-elected.
But Hirst says no matter who wins the election, there is still a chance to solve the problem. “Whether it’s Trump’s second term or Biden’s first term, they have an opportunity to continue to ask China to think about their approach to intellectual property and other issues, rather than completely destroying agricultural trade,” Hearst said. “I hope we can find a middle ground.”