'We need it now': U.S. farm country pins hopes on China trade deal
Humeyra Pamuk, Reuters
March 6, 2019
(Reuters) - Corn and soybean farmer Lorenda Overman from North Carolina has been selling her crops at a loss and delaying paychecks to her workers since the U.S. trade war with China tanked agriculture prices, and her farm’s debt recently topped $2 million.
If the Trump administration fails to clinch a deal with Beijing soon to end the trade dispute, she says, her operation may have a hard time staying afloat.
“We need some stability, we need some action and we need it now,” Overman, who farms in Goldsboro, said via telephone.
Her desperation reflects the mounting urgency across U.S. farm country over ongoing talks aimed at ending Washington’s trade dispute with China and pulling the U.S. agriculture industry out of its worst crisis since the 1980s.
U.S. trade negotiators currently locked in talks with their Chinese counterparts are demanding Beijing change the way it does business with the United States, providing more access for U.S. companies, enforcement of intellectual property protection and an end to industrial subsidies.
While the talks mark the closest point yet to an end to the nine-month trade war, the two sides are yet to agree on the core issues which are essential for a deal that would reopen a critical market for U.S. farm goods like soybeans, sorghum and corn-based ethanol.
So far, the American rural heartland that helped carry President Donald Trump to victory in 2016 remains largely supportive of his hard line on trade, saying unfair Chinese practices had to be addressed for longer-term economic gain.
But it has also taken the brunt of the dispute, losing a massive export market. With credit conditions eroding in the agrarian economy and total debt hitting levels unseen for decades, the pain has deepened and patience is wearing thin.
“I voted for Trump and I have no regrets. I still feel like he has a handle on what needs to be done but I am frustrated that we are still sitting here with no deal,” Overman said.
Beijing imposed tariffs last year on imports of U.S. agricultural goods, including soybeans, grain sorghum and pork as retribution for U.S. levies. Soybean exports to China have plummeted over 90 percent due to the trade dispute and sales of U.S. soybeans elsewhere failed to make up for the loss.
Trump last week delayed plans to deepen tariffs on China, citing progress in the current talks.
PLANTING AMID UNCERTAINTY ...