Opinion Columns & Blogs

What do farmers think about trade wars?

Almond trees bloom on the Betancourt farm.
Almond trees bloom on the Betancourt farm.

What do farmers think about trade wars? Easy – we don’t like them. What we like is fair trade.

I am a big fan of free trade and globalization. Eighty percent of my almonds and cotton get exported. With free trade, I have new demand which increases the value of my crops. The local and state economies benefit with income coming from overseas. This “rollover effect” creates jobs throughout the economy. We all benefit, it’s not just farmers.

It’s good economics. As individuals and as nations, we produce what we do best and trade for the things we do not do as well. We all can win.

When I was Fresno County Farm Bureau President, we commissioned a study of the impact of trade on the local economy. That study showed that 25 percent of ag income comes from trade. Today, that’s nearly $1.5 billion in our economy is directly related to trade. Did I mention I am a big fan of free trade?

But, and this is a big but, farmers have been concerned about fair trade for a long time. This is where President Trump gets it right. At least as far back as 2016 he said, “I love free trade, but it has to be fair.”

In over 20 years, he is the first one in D.C. to do more than wring his hands over the issue. Yes, trade wars are nervewracking, but if we get more fair trade deals it is worth it.

I know a local farmer who had a truckload of fruit turned back at the border because one spider was found among the thousands of boxes of fruit. I am a big fan of food safety as a farmer and a consumer. But, abuse of phytosanitary standards is a global problem.

Nations around the world are much more picky about what comes into their countries than what goes out.

And this is not fair. Free trade rules are being weaponized. This is especially hard on California farmers because of the amount of perishable fruits and vegetables we export.

These are called non-tariff trade barriers. The key component of globalization is lowering tariffs – or taxes – on imports. But, with taxes down, how do countries protect their local businesses? Many use non-tariff trade barriers. These barriers include technical rules and standards, labeling rules, misuse of phytosanitary and sanitary standards, unfair subsidies, anti-dumping rules, additional fees, ad hoc bans.

Many barriers do no more than slow delivery. Annoying as that is, it won’t hurt my cotton and almonds. But, what about fresh fruits and produce? A couple days sitting in a yard while someone is shuffling the paperwork can really affect the quality of fresh fruit.

So, why do farmers support President Trump when he threatens a trade war that affects our livelihood? A fair question. While we have supported the trend to free trade, we have been concerned for years about the fair trade issues. President Trump is the first person in D.C. to acknowledge the problem at a high enough level to do some good.

The end goal is not a trade war. No one wins there. The end goal is fair trade.

Remember – whether you like him or not, what is the President known for? The art of the deal. I am not looking forward to a trade war, but I am looking forward to a fair deal for farmers.

Paul H. Betancourt’s family farm is in Kerman. Connect with him: betancourtunlimited@ gmail.com.