"Our farmers are the first target and we know that’s where the unintended consequences will fall is on our farmers and on our manufacturers,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said one year ago of President Trump's plan to impose tariffs on aluminum and steel entering the United States. Those "unintended consequences," she said, could be "devastating" to Iowa and other agriculture states.
She was right.
Agriculture continues to bear a heavy burden in the U.S.-China trade war Americans have watched escalate since those tariffs were imposed. According to the USDA, sales of U.S. farm commodities to China (Iowa is the second-largest exporter of ag products, behind only California, and leads the nation in soybean, corn and pork exports; China is the world's second-largest importer of U.S. ag products) fell from more than $20 billion in fiscal 2017 to $16.3 billion in fiscal 2018 and are forecast to decline even more, to $9 billion, in this fiscal year. A recent Iowa State University report said Iowa farmers could lose up to $2.2 billion from U.S. trade wars with China and other nations, producing a ripple effect on state tax receipts, jobs and other industries.
Earlier this month, President Trump said a meeting between him and Chinese leader Xi Jinping to finalize a new trade agreement could happen before the end of March, but the U.S. and China have yet to set a date for a summit because neither side believes a deal is imminent, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
“A date hasn’t been finalized,” Terry Branstad, U.S. ambassador to China and former Iowa governor, said in an interview for the WSJ story. "Both sides agree that there has to be significant progress, meaning a feeling that they’re very close before that happens ... We’re not there yet. But we’re closer than we’ve been for a very long time.”
In a visit to Des Moines earlier this month, Branstad and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo essentially urged Iowa farmers to hang in there - a message we have heard from other Midwest Republican leaders over the last year.
Members of our editorial board have deep respect for Branstad from his time as Iowa's chief executive and, yes, we appreciate the fact he is part of Team Trump today so he needs to demonstrate support, at least publicly, for Trump policies, but we hope he is using his ties to and understanding of our state to lobby the president, as well the Chinese, behind the scenes for an expedited resolution of this trade war. In our view, he sits in an informed position from which he can influence both sides.
In the meantime, as we have said before, all farm state officeholders must use whatever clout they possess in keeping up pressure on the Trump administration to end America's trade fight with China. They should be in the ear of President Trump and members of his administration every day. This isn't (or shouldn't be) about political considerations, it should be about what's good for the livelihoods of agriculture producers and the agriculture economy.
To pleas for patience, we say this: In states like Iowa where pain from the U.S.-China trade dispute is acute and grows each month, limitless patience doesn't pay the bills or put money in pockets.