Trump’s tariffs are hurting our farmers

Sonny Perdue, US Ag Secretary, center, with Reps. Jeff Denham, left, and Jim Costa, answers a question during a press conferences after Perdue’s town hall meeting at the World Ag Expo.
Sonny Perdue, US Ag Secretary, center, with Reps. Jeff Denham, left, and Jim Costa, answers a question during a press conferences after Perdue’s town hall meeting at the World Ag Expo. jwalker@fresnobee.com

It’s a good thing U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has two ears. On the subject of Donald Trump’s reckless and destructive trade war, Perdue has already gotten one earful and today we hope he gets another.

This trade war is hurting farmers across America, but it’s especially painful in Stanislaus, Merced and south San Joaquin counties.

After Trump threatened tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum, China retaliated by targeting almonds, wine, walnuts and more products grown here. China imports $2 billion in ag products from California alone – mostly fruit, nuts and wine. That’s what we grow.

Farmers were urged to sit tight as the master deal-maker worked his magic. Since then, more tariffs and more retaliation. It’s so bad that Trump is now asking for a $12 billion to help farmers who grow corn, cotton, pork and soybeans. We grow those things, too, but they’re insignificant compared to our fruits, nuts, vegetables and wines. And those who grow our most important products are eligible only for federal government purchases of surplus produce.

The California Farm Bureau Federation wants equal treatment. So do some California Republicans in Congress, who sent a July 31 letter to Perdue. Chinese tariffs, they wrote, are “making fruits, vegetables and tree nuts in our districts significantly more expensive than their competitors” and “threatening the economic livelihood of our businesses and communities.”

Valley Republicans Jeff Denham, Devin Nunes and David Valadao signed it; Democrats Jim Costa, Ami Bera and four others did, too.

Tuesday, Denham and Costa can explain it in person as Perdue spends the day in Modesto and Oakdale. (Times and locations are provided if you RSVP.)

Are politics involved? Of course, and they should be. Republicans want to be seen as doing something for farmers. But it’s tough when the problem is your guy in the White House. Trump’s immigration policies have pulled workers out of fields and intimidated others from coming north to work while his bungling of trade policies have made our products more expensive and increased the costs of farm machinery.

Republicans insist they’re well positioned to influence the president. But Trump ignored them when he curtailed protections under the DREAM Act, then worked against their efforts to fix it. He’s ignored their entreaties to help poor constituents he was depriving of health insurance. Now he’s ignoring their pleas on trade. He’s even calling them names for complaining.

Trump tweeted last week that China “is spending a fortune on ads and P.R. trying to convince and scare our politicians to fight me.” Then he added, “Tariffs will make our country much richer than it is today. Only fools would disagree.”

So California Republicans are “fools”?

Demand for California almonds has plummeted 47 percent, according to Beacon Economics. California wine exports fell 15 percent and cherries 36 percent. China is the sixth-largest importer of California walnuts at $106 million, and they’re getting a 20 percent tariff along with pistachios.

Wednesday, China announced additional tariffs on $16 billion on U.S. goods, including on Chinese-made Apple products (which isn’t ag, but it is important here).

Growing more angry, Trump has threatened even higher tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. He’ll show ’em. But he’s not. China’s trade surplus with the U.S. dipped to $28.09 billion in July from a record $28.97 billion in June.

Trump’s impetuous, intemperate tweets have real consequences in our Valley. Secretary Perdue should hear all about them.