Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Trump's Trade War Deepens Farmers' Financial Plight

In 2016 many American farmers succumbed to Donald Trump's racist messaging and voted for a bombastic con-man who had bankrupted numerous companies, lost millions of dollars for others, and left a trail of unpaid contractors.  Now, Trump's trade war with China is pushing many of these same farmers towards their own bankruptcy filings.  Divine justice?  Perhaps, yet some surveys continue to show strong majorities of farmers putting their support for Trump's racist and xenophobic policies ahead of their own financial well being.  It's a case of the GOP's long ability to use race and other forms of bigotry to induce individuals to vote against their own interests on steroids.   Do I wish these folks well?  Not really and perhaps if the trade war with China continues they will reap the economic catastrophe they deserve.  A piece in the New York Times looks at the deepening financial plight in the heartland.  Here are excerpts:

American farmers have become collateral damage in a trade war that Mr. Trump began to help manufacturers and other companies that he believes have been hurt by China’s “unfair” trade practices.
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. 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. Farm bankruptcy filings in the year through June were up 13 percent from 2018 and loan delinquency rates are on the rise, according to the American Farm Bureau.
The predicament of farmers is becoming a political problem for Mr. Trump as he heads into an election year. For months, farmers have remained resolute, continuing to pledge support to [Trump] a president who says his trade policies will help the agricultural industry win in the end. While there are few signs of an imminent blue wave in farm country, a growing number of farmers say they are losing patience with [Trump's] the president’s approach and are suggesting it will not take much to lose their vote as well.
Mr. Trump, who regularly brags about an economic boom despite signs of a slowdown, has in some cases made matters worse.
We’re not starting to do great again,” Brian Thalmann, the president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, told Mr. Perdue at the event. “Things are going downhill and downhill quickly.”
On Monday, after a 72-hour period during which Mr. Trump twice escalated his trade war with China, Mr. Thalmann said he could no longer support [Trump] the president as he did in 2016.
Losing the world’s most populous country as an export market has been a major blow to the agriculture industry. Total American agricultural exports to China were $24 billion in 2014 and fell to $9.1 billion last year, according to the American Farm Bureau. Exports of farm products to China fell by $1.3 billion in the first half of the year, the agriculture group said this month.
A report from the Agriculture Department this month found that Canadian wheat exports to China have “rocketed” this year, while exports from the United States have plunged.
The administration has tried to mollify farmers by rolling out two financial aid packages totaling $28 billion. . . . But as the trade fight gets uglier, farmers are beginning to panic. Last week, Mr. Trump said he would increase tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports to 30 percent and impose a 15 percent tax on another $300 billion worth later this year. China has already said it will no longer buy American agricultural products and announced on Friday that it would raise tariffs on $75 billion of exports from America.
The trade conflict’s toll on farmers is spreading to the manufacturers that serve them. Deere & Company, the maker of agricultural equipment, said this month that it was cutting its profit forecast for the second time this year. The company’s chief executive said farmers were delaying purchases because of concerns about access to export markets.
Mr. Trump is also trying to appease corn farmers who complain that an Environmental Protection Agency decision this month will hamper ethanol production. Farmers say the agency’s decision to exempt small oil refineries from a requirement to blend corn-based ethanol into gasoline has led to a drop in demand for the fuel.
At Minnesota’s Farmfest, it was clear that Mr. Perdue’s Southern charm could go only so far. His answers to questions about how the trade war with China would end were curt, and his quip about whining farmers left some with a sour taste.
But many farmers continue support Mr. Trump and express hope that [Trump] the president knows what he is doing in his dealings with China. A July survey from Farm Journal found that 79 percent of 1,100 farmers still back Mr. Trump despite the lack of progress in negotiations with China. And Mr. Perdue largely remains an effective emissary, with the industry still hoping Mr. Trump can pull off the kind of trade deal he has been promising.

Putting one's hope in a liar and con man doesn't strike me as a smart thing to do, yet Trump's continued calls to white nationalism seem to drown out all common sense in some circles. 

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