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Views and opinions: Farm bill debate creating unusual political partners


If you think writing a farm bill makes for strange bedfellows, just look at who’s allied against President Donald J. Trump’s up-and-down trade talks with China: the deeply conservative Wall Street Journal and the decidedly undecided Financial Times, or FT.

On May 8, FT’s Martin Wolf described America’s “draft framework” guiding U.S.-China trade talks earlier that week as “an ultimatum” from the Trump “administration (that) is either so foolish that it does not understand (trade) or (is) so arrogant that it does not care.”

What lit up Wolf the most were U.S. “demands” that, he wrote, were to be “concrete and verifiable.” Some of those demands required:

•China to reduce its trade balance with the U.S. by $100 billion in 12 months beginning June 2019

•That “China agrees … to abide by U.S. export control laws”

•That China will “open access to services and farm products as the U.S. specifies”

•That if China objects to any of the “demands,” the U.S. may impose tariffs or import restrictions on China

Wolf called the requirements “ridiculous,” noting that for China to meet just one of these conditions – say, cut its trade surplus with the United States in the coming years – it would be forced to violate several others within the same deal.

Someone at the White House got Wolf’s clear, simple message before the U.S. negotiators got back from Beijing because on May 13 the President took to Twitter to announce yet another of his stunning reversals of U.S. policy.

The White House, Trump decided, would give China’s state-owned ZTE Corp. a “reprieve from potentially crippling U.S. sanctions in exchange for Beijing removing tariffs on billions of dollars of U.S. agricultural products,” explained the Wall Street Journal in a May 15 front-page story.

That unexpected reversal, the Journal explained the same day in its lead editorial, “undermines (Trump’s) own policy (because) ZTE sold telecom equipment containing U.S. technology to five embargoed countries: Iran, Sudan, North Korea, Syria and Cuba.”

That violation, the Journal went on to note, meant “In 2016 the Obama Administration banned ZTE from buying U.S. components, which effectively put the company out of business.” And yet, “Two weeks later it gave ZTE a second chance, and the company agreed to pay a $1.2 billion fine … (but) it got caught again.”

Question: What kind of foreign company gets caught twice breaking U.S. laws? Answer: A foreign company that has complete disdain for U.S. laws.

Now, however, the President – because he promised to protect your farm export markets in China – “is giving a reprieve to ZTE in return for China lifting tariffs it imposed in response to misguided U.S. tariffs,” noted the Journal.

“In other words,” the Journal goes on to repeat itself to emphasize its startling disbelief, “Mr. Trump is undermining U.S. credibility on sanctions in order to dodge tariff retaliation on the U.S. Farm Belt that Mr. Trump invited with his protectionism. Meanwhile, there’s no sign so far that Mr. Xi is bending on the IP (intellectual property) theft or other predatory behavior.”

So, say these titans of the international business press, current White House trade policy really means the United States is willing to trade its sovereignty and dignity to China, a nation who sells intellectual property stolen from us to our enemies, in order to “dodge tariff retaliation on the U.S. Farm Belt” that our Tweeter-in-Chief begged for – and got – with his earlier, “misguided” steel tariffs.

That means the White House now wants you and me to become partners in making China’s state-owned ZTE – a “company (that) used an elaborate system of shell companies to deceive the U.S.” – great again so “that their equipment could be used to spy on or sabotage networks” again.

This isn’t free trade, fair trade, or even bad trade. It’s lunacy.

Hopefully U.S. and Chinese trade negotiators, meeting again in Washington soon, can forge a far better deal than one that relies on us coddling corporate criminals in order to export soybeans, corn and pork.


The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers with questions or comments for Alan Guebert may write to him in care of this publication.