As last week’s G-7 summit unraveled amid threats of a trade war, President Donald Trump spoke some truth: His assessment that farmers have been hurt by tariffs and barriers to trade is correct.
However, he’s criticized and taken action against the wrong countries; traditional U.S. allies have long been secure markets for the export and sale of American goods, promoting prosperity at home. All the while, the president’s protectionism is further compounding the economic problems that will almost certainly exacerbate the pain Nebraska’s agricultural producers have felt for years.
Accusations of “backstabbing” and invitations to a “special place in hell,” as Trump aides said this weekend, won’t fix trade policy. Nor will misguided tariffs in the supposed interest of “national security” that will inevitably spark painful retaliatory duties.
This White House’s trade policy simply hurts this state and country.
While the president has railed against U.S. trade deficits – a measuring stick that provides only a partial picture, at best – his country actually turns a trade surplus with Canada. The U.S. sells more goods and services in Canada than it purchases, despite Trump’s loudly repeated but patently untrue claim that our northern neighbor turns a profit at Americans’ expense.
Closer to home, Canada is Nebraska’s top trading partner. The Cornhusker State sells more than $1.6 billion of its $7.2 billion in annual exports to Canada, according to documents from its consulate general’s office, with agricultural machinery and commodities comprising far and away the largest share of those goods.
Farm profits have plunged to roughly half of what they were earlier this decade. One of the few saving graces has been overseas markets, with Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson telling the Journal Star that nearly 30 percent of the state’s ag output is exported.
After all, this state is the nation’s fifth-largest agricultural exporter, explaining the full-throated, entirely justified defense of free trade by Nebraska’s all-Republican congressional delegation. They understand this makes business sense for all of their constituents, whether farmers or city dwellers.
Trade agreements are good for producers by helping to provide easier market access to overseas buyers. Such deals benefit consumers, too, in that they allow natural competition to result in lower prices for merchandise, rather than tariffs artificially jacking up the price of foreign products to protect higher-priced domestic goods.
At this point, you may be thinking: Haven’t I seen similar editorials in this space recently? You’re not hallucinating – the Journal Star editorial board has been sounding the alarm siren frequently because trade is a matter of critical importance to the state economy.
Nebraska needs trade certainty that guarantees the least restrictive means to market access – and quickly.
— Journal Star editorial board