Trade advocates plan to keep the pressure on

With tariffs still in place, Illinois farmers continue to feel the impact of the trade war despite recent rhetoric that a pause may be in place.

Hundreds of Illinois farmers signed a “Farmers for Free Trade” banner at the IFB Annual Meeting in Chicago. (Photos by Mike Orso)

By Mike Orso

Some Illinois farmers have expressed cautious optimism following the recent announcement of a tariff cease-fire between the United States and China. Still, a national trade advocacy group says it plans to maintain and may even step up its call for a complete end to trade disputes with China, Canada and Mexico.

“Keep in mind, we still have tariffs still in place,” said Angela Hofmann, co-founder and deputy director of Farmers for Free Trade (FFFT). “We have the existing tariffs on Chinese imported goods, we still have the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) tariffs and we have a lot of retaliatory tariffs that are in place.”

After a meeting last weekend in Argentina between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jingping, the two countries announced a 90-day truce in the current trade war. The U.S. postponed plans to increase tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports while the two countries in the interim enter into negotiations to resolve differences.

“This is not the time to take your foot off the gas,” said Hofmann, who participated in the Illinois Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in Chicago. “We need to put the pedal down and go faster.”

IFB, the American Farm Bureau Federation, several other state Farm Bureaus and agricultural groups are members of FFFT. The group solicited farmers’ signatures in Chicago on a banner advocating for free trade.

“Farmers are saying, ‘there may be other ways to do this,’” said Hofmann. “The blunt instrument of tariffs is sort of using a hand grenade when you need a surgical tool.”

In separate Twitter posts Monday, Trump called the China meeting during the G-20 summit in Argentina “extraordinary” that could result in the Asian country resuming purchases of U.S. agricultural commodities.

“Farmers will be a very big and fast beneficiary of our deal with China,” the president said in one of the tweets.

Hofmann called the Argentina announcement “welcome news” but cautioned a similar one involving Trump administration negotiators occurred earlier this year without a restoration of ag trade with China.

“That’s certainly something we saw this summer when they had talks with (Secretary of Treasury) Mnuchin as well,” said Hofmann. “Getting those products moving again … farmers would like to see the action behind it happen very quickly.”

On Monday, IFB voting delegates approved a “sense of the delegate body resolution” noting tariffs on U.S. products have “dramatically reduced demand, negatively impacted prices and created a wave of economic uncertainty.”

“This is very important to every one of us here,” said Ron Bork, president of the Ford-Iroquois Farm Bureau, who spoke to the resolution. “2018 has not been a bad year for many people but look what’s coming in 2019 if we don’t get this done.”

The resolution calls upon the U.S. Congress and the Trump administration to “seek productive resolution to current trade disputes” and provide benefit for all sectors of the U.S. economy and trading partners.

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