As President Trump addressed the annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation in Nashville on Monday, promising to “level the playing field for our great American exporters, our farmers and ranchers,” his administration’s Task Force on Rural Prosperity simultaneously issued a new report which, among other things, vowed to aggressively pursue foreign trade practices that block U.S. agricultural exports.
“In the next three years, our administration will take on challenges ranging from high tariffs on dozens of products — including meats, dairy, rice, soy, wheat, fresh fruit and vegetables, and more — to unscientific regulation of biotechnology products and other goods; inappropriate use of geographical indications in ways that shut out American producers of wines, cheeses, and other high-value products; and escalating levels of domestic supports in large emerging economies,” the report stated. “We will address these through fair negotiations, use of World Trade Organization and Free Trade Agreement dispute settlement rights, and all other means at our disposal.”
While the task force, chaired by U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue and comprised of officials from over 20 cabinet agencies and executive branch offices, stressed the importance of exports to rural incomes, the report was more ambivalent about trade agreements. Stating that they “generally increase trade” and can be a “growth opportunity” for farmers, the report notes that trade agreements “can also increase competition from imports.” Moreover, their effects “may not be distributed evenly across regions or sectors.”
“For example, some manufacturing industries are clustered in rural rather than urban areas. Food manufacturing, machinery manufacturing, and wood product manufacturing jobs account for larger shares of rural manufacturing jobs than urban manufacturing jobs, while computers, electronics, and chemical production account for larger shares of urban manufacturers,” the report said.
In a separate statement, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who also sits on the task force, said: “Trade is essential to agriculture and rural prosperity, so if we are to open up new economic opportunities for rural communities, we must increase export market access, tear down foreign trade barriers, and enforce our trade laws to make sure other countries play by the rules.”
“USTR is committed to this administration-wide effort to break down barriers for rural America, grow our economy and ensure the United States remains the world’s leader in agriculture trade,” Lighthizer said.
Back at the Farm Bureau convention, Trump told delegates that “we’re reviewing all of our trade agreements to make sure that they are fair and reciprocal” and said he was “working very hard to get a better deal.” However, the president added “it’s not the easiest negotiation” because Canada and Mexico are “making all of that money,” but pledged he would “make it fair to you people again.”
Trump made no other specific mention of trade in his discursive, election-style speech, which lasted more than half an hour, but even his brief statement on the issue was a relief to farmers, said Angela Marshall Hofmann, the deputy director of Farmers for Free Trade, a bipartisan organization that mobilized to promote open markets after the start of the Trump administration. “Entire supply chains and rural communities rely on trade with Mexico and Canada,” she said. “We were very pleased to hear NAFTA mentioned.”