Farmer patience on tariffs comes with caution flag for Trump


By Kevin Freking, Associated Press

Mar 7, 2019


WASHINGTON (AP) — Iowa hog farmer Howard Hill is feeling the pinch from President Donald Trump’s get-tough trade policies — his pigs are selling for less than it costs to raise them. It’s a hit that Hill is willing to take for now, but his understanding also comes with a caution flag for the president.


“We have patience, but we don’t have unlimited patience,” says Hill, who raises about 7,000 hogs a year near the central Iowa town of Cambridge.


The president’s willingness to pick trade fights with multiple trading partners at once has set off volleys of retaliatory tariffs, driving down the price of pork, corn and soybeans in political bellwether Iowa and elsewhere, and contributing to a 12 percent drop in net farm income nationally last year.


At issue are trade talks with China over intellectual property theft and a new U.S. deal with Canada and Mexico to replace NAFTA that is awaiting congressional approval. Those efforts could take months to complete. So scores of farm and business groups are pressing for quicker relief, a stopgap step to help them out until the more comprehensive trade agreements are resolved. They’re urging the administration to remove Canada and Mexico from the list of nations hit with a 25 percent tariff on steel shipped to the U.S. and a 10 percent tariff placed on aluminum. Their hope is that action would give the U.S. neighbors cause to remove retaliatory tariffs they placed on U.S. goods, such as a 20 percent levy Mexico placed on U.S.-produced hams.


So far, the administration hasn’t bit on that idea, but it dispatched Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Iowa this week to assure farmers that help is on the way.


For now, Trump is walking a political tightrope: Going to bat for steel and aluminum makers has endeared him to many voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where steel production is a matter of economic pride and legacy, but it could end up hurting him in ag-heavy states like Iowa and Wisconsin that backed him in 2016.


In Iowa, which casts the first votes of the presidential campaign season, state Republican Party Chairman Jeff Kauffmann said he’s surprised by how patient farmers have been with Trump. The Trump Agriculture Department did approve up to $12 billion in assistance to help compensate farmers caught up in the tariff battle.


“They all say it’s hurting,” Kauffman said of the trade disputes. “They’re all saying the stopgap relief was definitely not a cure-all, but they all understand what the president is trying to accomplish. It’s quite an interesting phenomenon.”


But the defeat of two Republican House lawmakers in last year’s midterm elections hints at some of the anxiety in farm country...