Devin Nunes puts protecting President Trump above all else, including safeguarding the economic interests of his constituents. Central Valley tree nut growers will be among the big losers in the trade war Trump is intent of waging against China and the European Union. Yet Nunes has been AWOL on this issue, refusing to criticize Trump for misguided trade policies that will harm the local economy.
In the most recent shipping season, China and Hong Kong accounted for 55 percent of U.S. pistachio exports, whose farm gate value amounted to $339 million. Fresno County is the second-biggest producer of pistachio nuts in California. Higher Chinese duties on American pistachios would be boon to Iran, the world’s other major pistachio grower, enabling it to grab much of the rising Chinese demand for these nuts. In 2016, China took 12 percent of California’s almonds, which remain the top grossing crop for Fresno County. The total value of almonds and pistachios sent to China that year each amounted to over $500 million. According to the USDA Global Agricultural Information Network, the EU is the other big export market for California tree nuts, taking in $2.95 billion worth of U.S. exports of this largely California-grown commodity. That total included $1.6 billion worth of almonds, $420 million worth of walnuts and $380 million worth of pistachios.
China has already announced significant tariff increases on U.S. tree nuts in response to Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs. Unlike Kentucky bourbon and Harley-Davidson motorcycles, tree nuts have yet to be included in EU retaliatory tariffs. But that will change if the U.S.-EU trade dispute escalates, as it appears to be doing, and more tit-for-tat behavior occurs. Given the scale and value of California tree nut exports to Europe and China, reducing access to these markets will reduce the incomes of the state’s tree nut growers. Ancillary industries, like packing and shipping, will also suffer.
Nunes’s silence on this looming threat to the livelihoods of many of his constituents has been deafening. In late March, when Trump announced the steel and aluminum tariffs, Nunes spoke on Fox Business Network, praising Trump for not just talking “tough” on trade but acting “tough” as well. He airily declared that the U.S. could open up other markets, such as Japan and Vietnam, for U.S. farm exporters, ignoring how Trump has made doing that much more difficult with his pullout from the TPP trade deal.
Nunes spent much of the interview talking about China as a national security threat and stressing the Chinese technology theft. The issue certainly matters, and China has not been a good global trade citizen. However, Trump is mistakenly addressing this problem through tariffs and trying to reduce China’s trade surplus with the U.S. — the latter is driven by the low American savings rate, not “bad” trade deals. The president should instead be forging alliances with U.S. allies in Asia and Europe to exert pressure against China to mend its bad ways. Unfortunately, he has made this difficult by withdrawing from the TPP shortly after becoming president and is now picking trade fights with Europe, Canada, and Mexico, all longstanding American allies.
President Trump is famous for demanding complete loyalty from those around him, while giving little back of it back himself. On an issue that is of vital importance to the economic well-being of the 22nd District, Nunes has gotten little payback from his effort to be a Trump über loyalist. The voters here deserve better and need a representative who will fight for them against Trump’s bad trade policies.
William Daniel Garst lives in Fresno and is a full-time lecturer in the political science department at California State University, Fresno. He focuses on international relations, especially trade.