Missouri Farm Bureau recently completed its annual member trip to Washington, D.C. About 100 members participated in the four-day visit, which included visits with elected members of Congress, Presidential appointees, policy experts and foreign dignitaries.
While this trip has been an annual staple for decades, long-time attendees noted a distinct shift in tone this year. Nearly every policy expert and elected official who is familiar with agriculture expressed strong concern about President Trump’s changes to American trade policy.
A primary concern expressed by these speakers was the danger American agriculture faces from other countries targeting it through retaliation. President Trump’s recent steel and aluminum tariffs will make almost no positive impact on Missouri, where no steel or aluminum is made. However, if other countries target agricultural commodities to raise retaliatory tariffs, Missouri and other Midwestern states could be hard-hit. Several speakers in Washington mentioned that America is by far the most productive agricultural country in the world, so food and agriculture products will be some of the most sensitive pressure points for retaliation.
Experts and elected officials are also deeply troubled by America’s lack of ability to grow export markets through new trade agreements. Agricultural production is at an all-time high and prices are at record lows. With a saturated domestic market, the only place for farmers to grow is out. However, President Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and failure to enter bilateral negotiations with new countries has led to a stagnant export market. Without new buyers at good prices, agricultural products will continue to languish.
Multiple speakers also spoke about misconceptions regarding international trade, especially politicians’ and the media’s focus on bilateral trade deficits and surpluses. Dr. John Hamre, CEO of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), offered a particularly poignant example. Dr. Hamre gives a large amount of money to his local grocery store each week to purchase food and other products. Since he is not providing them any goods or services in return, like stocking their shelves at night, he is running a massive trade deficit with that store. However, in another area of his life he produces valuable goods and services that other people want and buy from him, giving him a massive surplus with that person. He uses this money to buy his weekly groceries.
Clearly no one would see this arrangement as problematic; it is simply how transactions work. However, this is exactly how many politicians view trade – they view each separate country as a zero-sum game. Taking a broader view than the bilateral picture would benefit all parties. Some countries will run a surplus and some a deficit, but the overall picture is far more important.
Educational and sharing experiences like this visit expand our horizons and help inform our lawmakers. This year’s trip was a huge success, and we look forward to returning for many decades to come.