Growing discontent among struggling farmers as a deal with China twists in the wind poses a sharp political risk for Trump, particularly in the key battleground state of Michigan, where he beat rival Hillary Clinton by just 10,700 votes of nearly 5 million votes cast. Trump’s key support in other rural areas also threatens to erode as farmers declare bankruptcies in record numbers amid the trade war.
Trump’s announcement of new tariffs on Chinese products (followed by China’s decision to increase retaliatory penalties) occurred before the conference call, which had been previously scheduled to air concerns about a lack of progress on passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, which is also hurting farmers.
Not only have farmers already been staggered by the trade war, but industry leaders are also worried that American farmers are losing their reputation as consistent, reliable trade partners, reports the Michigan Advance. They fear farmers have lost business that will never be recovered as nations like China cement deals with farmers in other countries.
Even once a trade deal is reached with China, rebuilding ties will be difficult. A study by Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture revealed that 68 percent of China consumers find America’s trade policy toward China to be unfair, research author David Ortega noted.
Michigan farmers already stunned by the trade war are now steeling themselves for more pain. China was the state’s “biggest soybean consumer” and a key market for Michigan pork producers, noted Byrum, but no longer.
“From the dairy standpoint, we got hit really hard on the first round” of tariffs, said Ken Nobis, a senior policy adviser for the Michigan Milk Producers Association. The latest developments aren’t “going to do us any more good,” the Advance quoted him as saying.
Kathy Maurer, financial director for the Michigan Soybean Association, said the situation is forcing people into a “fight for the family farm.” The impact of the new round of tariffs will be “very dramatic,” she said.
Trump often refers to farmers as his “friends,” and is seeking a $15 billion aid package that would involve the U.S. purchasing their products to help protect farmers from the trade war he has created.
Last year $12 billion in subsidies — mostly in direct payments to farmers — was earmarked to help farmers weather the trade war.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misidentified researcher David Ortega as “Daniel.”