President Trump, love him or loathe him, has always been clear in at least one respect: He believes in tariffs.
That is, he believes strongly and consistently in leveling additional charges on imports from other countries if their policies aren’t to the liking of the United States. Right now, that means tariffs on goods from China. And that country, in response, is leveling additional charges on exports from the United States.
As both countries wrangle over their respective trade policies, that leaves individual farmers in the crossfire. It’s an unfortunate situation, although one where we’re more likely to prevail than our opponents.
U.S. farmers have come to rely on the international market. If their goods are more expensive overseas, or if other countries bar importation outright, their incomes fall. In a sector that has already faced challenge after challenge recently, that’s a heavy burden.
Critics point out, correctly, that Trump seems to fundamentally misunderstand how tariffs work. Tariffs on Chinese goods are not paid by the Chinese; they are paid by the consumers of those goods here, in the United States. That means that trade wars, while potentially leading to better deals, ultimately harm the residents of the countries involved.
We will all have to tighten our belts if tariffs spread and continue. The cost of goods and services will increase. And farmers will be worse off than most because they will face these increased costs with reduced incomes. The federal government has labored mightily to find alternative income sources for agriculture producers, but such payments are short-term solutions, at best.
What’s most frustrating about this situation is that, one this issue at least, the president has basically the right idea. China and the United States do not have a balanced trade relationship. Experts on both sides of the ideological divide agree that much can be changed and improved.
The United States is also, arguably, better able to stand higher prices for a time given the overall health of our economy. We can weather a storm or two or three.
We should ask though, how able are farmers to weather these storms? How much sacrifice are we asking of them? And how long will all of us be able to tolerate these disruptions? If we know the tariffs are part of an overall plan with clear goals and defined objectives, they may well be worth the cost.
If they’re not part of such a plan, we had all better hope Trump’s run of good luck continues.