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Changes in Attitude Changes in Latitude


Well, if you did not it before, it is crystal clear now: Donald Trump is not a big fan of trade. He is also not a big fan of trade agreements.  During recent campaign stops in Pennsylvania and Ohio, Mr. Trump blasted the U.S. trade policy of the past two decades and said, if he were elected, he would revoke the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and would not support the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP).

At the other end of the political spectrum is Hillary Clinton whose husband signed and supported NAFTA and who, up until the primary campaign, was a supporter of TPP.  However, while courting the support of organized labor, she changed her positon and came out against TPP. So no matter who wins the White House in November, the future does not look good for trade deals.

This is, or should be, troubling to farmers who depend on exports of commodities and finished foods. Without open trade, farmers of all sizes and types will see lower prices and less demand for what they produce. While bashing trade makes political points in the Rust Belt, it is a red flag in farm country.

What is ironic is that, while America is heading down the trail of protectionism, one of the biggest competitors U.S. farmers have is opening up to trade.  After decades of protectionist policies, Brazil is reaching out and promoting trade.  Brazil has an agricultural production capacity that rivals the U.S. in many areas, but they have always been skittish about international trade and trade deals. That is changing. They are even eliminating their restrictions on foreign ownership of farmland.

U.S. producers are already facing low corn and soybean prices and a lack of demand from foreign buyers.  Just imagine how much worse things will get if our country walks away from trade deals that benefit the U.S. economy and agriculture. Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton like to focus on how trade costs jobs here at home. They fail to acknowledge the jobs and profits that are generated by these trade agreements.

Trade is not going to be one of the marquee issues of this presidential campaign, but it is one that is vital to agriculture.  No matter which candidate you support, if you are involved in agriculture in any way you need to impress upon those you support the importance of free trade. The next 4 years could see the U.S. become a secondary player in the world food market, especially in the growing markets of Asia and Africa.    South America with its revolutions, dictators, and lack of infrastructure may be getting its trade act together and may fill the void left as the U.S. turns its back on the world market.

By Gary Truitt