“Please put an end to these trade wars as soon as possible.”
That’s Lodi apple farmer Jeff Colombini’s message to President Donald Trump. While Trump claims his trade war antics only inflict pain on other countries, farmers like Colombini beg to differ. Their voices are getting louder.
Trump has put farmers squarely in the crossfire of his trade wars. His unpredictable tariff threats against trading partners like China, India and Mexico – usually delivered via Twitter – have sown extra chaos and unpredictability into lives already fraught with uncertainty.
People who make their living off of the land face many unpredictable challenges: frost, floods, storms, heat, insects and global economics. Now they must also worry that they’re just a few presidential tweets away from financial disaster.
Colombini, for instance, sells most of his apples to Mexico and Canada. But when Trump’s fights with countries like China and India make it hard for other apple exporters to sell to those countries, the market becomes flooded, creating turmoil for apple growers like Colombini.
Colombini, who registered as a Republican in college but identifies himself as an independent “disenfranchised with both parties,” chooses his words carefully. He does not seem eager to criticize Trump.
Yet his verdict on the president’s antics is clear: “When you look at these trade wars, I think agriculture’s gotten hurt the worst.”
“More than a year into the trade dispute, sales of American soybeans, pork, wheat and other agricultural products to China have dried up as Beijing retaliates against Mr. Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports,” according to the New York Times. “Lucrative contracts that farmers long relied on for a significant source of income have evaporated, with Chinese buyers looking to other nations like Brazil and Canada to get the commodities they need.”
The costs of Trump’s trade war are mounting in California. Californians have paid $5.3 billion in additional tariff costs so far, according to an analysis by Farmers for Free Trade, which describes itself as a “bipartisan, nonprofit organization comprised of farmers, ranchers, ag businesses and ag organizations that support free trade.”
The group says California’s farmers and businesses have faced $1.6 billion in new retaliatory tariffs and California exports subject to retaliation from trading partners targeted by Trump have dropped by 9.5 percent. It warns that, in the worst case scenario, Trump’s trade war “could cost up to 248,400 jobs” in the state.
“Tariffs are taxes,” declares the group. “They are paid for by California families, farmers, workers, and communities.”
The problem with trade wars is that powerful trading partners like China can fight back.
“China, in particular, seems to have been very savvy about targeting retaliatory tariffs toward agricultural goods, including fruit, nuts and wine – things that are important to California’s economy,” said Katheryn Russ, an associate professor of economics at UC Davis.
Farmers and ranchers tend to be a conservative bunch. A poll conducted during the 2016 election found Trump leading Hillary Clinton 55-18 among farmers with operations spanning at least 200 acres, according to the trade journal Agri-Pulse.
That’s why Trump should be worried about their growing distress over his flailing trade tactics.
“The U.S. Apple Association (USApple) is extremely disappointed that apple growers have been caught in what seems will be a trade war between the White House and the Chinese government,” said Jim Bair, president and CEO of the U.S. Apple Association. “With apples being included on China’s list of retaliatory tariffs, U.S. growers face losing an important and expanding export market, to which access was a hard fought battle.”
California’s almond growers, who rely on trade with China and India, are also feeling the pressure.
“We can deal with market disruption in one country, but to have it in multiple countries is a real challenge,” said David Phippen, a partner of Manteca’s Travaille & Phippen Inc., told the Los Angeles Times.
“No one likes the current situation we are in,” said Ian LeMay, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association.
LeMay said that while many farmers appreciate Trump’s desire for better deals, his trade wars are hurting them. He said grape growers have lost $70 million in sales, while plum growers have lost $28 million.
Trump seems undaunted, perhaps banking on the fact that the federal government is shelling out billions of dollars in subsidies to farmers. California farmers have received $76.3 million in federal subsidies for “economic harm they may have suffered as a result of President Donald Trump’s trade war with China,” according to The Fresno Bee.
But can independent-minded people who make their living from the Earth be happy with government welfare checks instead of free trade? After all, they’re farmers, not socialists.
“Farmers are starting to do great again,” tweeted Trump, even as national news stories began to reflect the growing anger of American farmers. Sonny Perdue, Trump’s agriculture secretary, recently suggested that farmers are just whining.
With Trump’s trade wars risking permanent damage to the agricultural sector, perhaps it’s time for American farmers to turn up the volume and make sure the president hears their message loud and clear. The same goes for American consumers, since the average household will pay an extra $1000 per year for Chinese goods thanks to Trump’s tariff tantrums, according to JPMorgan.