Opinion: GOP views on agriculture and trade are a work in progress

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Photo by Darrell Hoemann/Big Ag Watch

A central Illinois farmer drives a combine as the evening approaches on Sept. 24, 2015. Since 2010, corn and corn products have been the top U.S. agricultural commodities shipped to Trans-Pacific Partnership countries

Dave Dickey

Dave Dickey

If you have been watching the Republican National Convention this week you can be excused for wondering just exactly what policy changes a Trump Administration would enact on the issues of trade and agriculture.

The four-day infomercial for the Trump train has been largely short on details when it comes to growing and producing our nation’s food and reaching trade agreements with foreign nations. Nor did the GOP bruising primary battle give us much to consider beyond what can fit on a bumper sticker (“I LIKE ETHANOL!!!!!!”).

But the devil is in the details.

GOP Presidential candidate Donald Trump has told Americans that North American Free Trade Agreement is “a disaster,” needing to be dumped or renegotiated, and that the currently under-consideration Trans Pacific Partnership is “a continuing rape of our country.”

And Trump had made China his personal punching bag, saying the People’s Republic of China is a currency manipulator and the U.S. is in a trade war with China, one which we are “losing badly.”

But exactly what would Trump consider to be a good free trade deal beyond Making America Great Again?

Fortunately, a few details are beginning to emerge from the GOP’s newly inked party platform on trade and agriculture and from the Trump-Pence campaign website on China (with the YUGE caveat that anything we are seeing may or may not be the real deal given the many contradictions we’ve seen thus far in the campaign).

A few things are immediately newsworthy.

The GOP platform makes it clear that if Trump wins the presidency, Congress will stonewall the TPP in the lame duck session after the November elections.

A Trump administration would also:

  • Take uncomfortable stances on trading metrics for many countries by “…insist(ing) that our global trading partners adhere to science-based standards with regard to food and health regulations.”
  • Repeal the controversial Waters of the U.S. rule and likely attempt to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency: “Unelected bureaucrats must be stopped from furthering the Democratic Party’s political agenda through regulatory demands forced upon citizens and businesses beyond that which is required by law. We must never allow federal agencies to seize control of state waters, watersheds, or groundwater. State waters, watersheds, and groundwater must be the purview of the sovereign states.”
    (Note: The EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers issued its WOTUS rule last year to clarify which waterways the federal government could regulate).
  • Overhaul Title 1 of the farm bill, with specific attention on producer safety net provisions: “No segment of agriculture can expect treatment so favorable that it seriously disadvantages workers in other trades. Federal programs to assist farmers in managing risk must be as cost-effective as they are functional, offering tools that can improve producers’ ability to operate when times are tough while remaining affordable to the taxpayers.”
  • Perhaps attempt to overturn the newly passed Roberts-Stabenow bill on GMO labeling: “We oppose the mandatory labeling of genetically modified food, which has proven to be safe, healthy, and a literal life-saver for millions in the developing world.”
  • Slap tariffs on any nation in general, and China in particular, over unfair trade practices: “A Republican president will insist on parity in trade and stand ready to implement countervailing duties if other countries refuse to cooperate.”

Some of these policies may have unintended consequences.

Case in point: Launching a trade war with China will probably hurt U.S. consumers in the long run.

I am all for making American Great but Trump defines much of his proposed policy through the lens of grievance.

Trump says America is currently in the sewer and the U.S. is a laughingstock among both our allies and our enemies. It’s like the Howard Beale character from the movie “Network”:

You’ve got to say, I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE! Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis.

Whether that truly is a basis on which to build U.S. trade and agricultural policy remains to be seen.


About Dave Dickey

Dickey spent nearly 30 years at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s NPR member station WILL-AM 580 where he won a dozen Associated Press awards for his reporting. For the past 13 years, he directed Illinois Public Media’s agriculture programming. His weekly column for Big Ag Watch covers agriculture and related issues including politics, government, environment and labor. Email him at dave.dickey@investigatemidwest.org.

This column reflects the writer’s own opinions and not those of Big Ag Watch.

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