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U.S. Farmers Still Waiting for Action on Trade

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Dr. Bob Thompson

Chinese negotiators are meeting regularly with U.S. negotiators in an effort to resolve our current trade dispute. While the President continues to speak of progress and has delayed any further escalation of trade tariffs, U.S. farmers, who have been hurt economically by the dispute, are pressing for a resolution.  Davie Stephens, a soybean grower from Clinton, Kentucky, and American Soybean Association (ASA) president stated, “We are glad that talks between these two countries will continue without the tariff hike, but we need resolution and are discouraged that it’s still hard to see a tangible end in sight.”

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue admitted this week that talks do not necessarily mean progress, “They are engaged in conversation and  hear what we say…”  When asked it if the Chinese are willing to make a deal, Perdue equivocated, “I think it would be premature to characterize it as a willingness.”

While the President predicted a possible  agreement within a month or two, Perdue was less optimistic and indicated the U.S. was not clear on just how willing Beijing was to make concessions on key ag trade issues.  The Chinese did make a significant purchase of U.S. soybeans last week but called it a “good faith” ensure.

Meanwhile, the Mexico-Canada-U.S. free trade agreement is stalled in Congress, and the steel tariffs remain in place. Perdue admitted he is frustrated by the lack of action on tariffs and on the deal that will replace NAFTA, “We had hoped the tariffs would have been lifted by now.”  USDA sources said Perdue has been pressuring the White House to lift the steel tariffs since an agreement has been reached with our top two trading partners.   The administration has refused to lift the  tariffs as a way of keeping pressure on Congress to ratify the agreement.

Dr. Bob Thompson, former Purdue Ag Dean, said the longer the tariffs remain in place, the more agriculture exports will decline, “Nobody has ever won a tariff war, and I feel very badly that this has set U.S. agriculture back as much as it has.”

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said the administration and USDA must begin to address the worsening farm economy. “A majority of American farmers lost money last year, and that has been the case over the past several years,” Johnson explained. “Farm prices are unsustainably low. Farm lending is tightening and bankruptcies are rising.” Corn and soybean leaders are likely to express similar concerns when they meet with Secretary Perdue at Commodity Classic at the end of the week.