US-China trade war is hurting farmers, but they’re sticking with Trump

  • Recent polls show farmers strongly support Trump, even amid rising tariffs with china.
  • Experts say they’re likely to stay on his side in 2020.
  • Still, it’s too soon to tell how China’s decision to stop buying U.S. agriculture products will affect that support.

President Donald Trump may be a resort-dwelling real estate magnate who entered politics via golden escalator, but even a trade war with China hasn’t tarnished his image as a champion for an unlikely group: farmers and ranchers.

Farmers are one of the most visible casualties of the U.S.-China trade war, which escalated sharply this week as both sides landed blows that could hold potentially devastating consequences for U.S. agriculture.

Yet farmers appear to be sticking by Trump — not just the Republican they largely supported in the 2016 election, but the trade warrior who has put their industries in China’s sights. And while they’re far from the largest group in Trump’s corner, farmers could prove to be a crucial voting bloc in the 2020 election.

The Purdue Center for Commercial Agriculture’s latest producer survey, which was conducted last month and released Tuesday, showed a record-high 78% of farmers said they believe the trade war will ultimately benefit U.S. agriculture. That roughly matches Trump’s overall approval rating of 79% among farmers, according to a Farm Pulse survey conducted around the same time.

That data was collected before this past week, however, when Trump said he would impose on Sept. 1 new 10% tariffs on the remaining $300 billion in Chinese goods.

Trump tweeted the announcement just after the two countries had restarted trade talks in Shanghai. He claimed China had broken its promises to buy “large quantities” of U.S. agricultural products and stop selling fentanyl.

China swung back on Monday, taking the severe step of canceling all purchases of U.S. agriculture products.

That’s no small loss: The U.S. made $9.2 billion in agricultural exports to China last year according to the Department of Agriculture, making that country the fifth-largest U.S. agricultural export market.

The Treasury labeled China a currency manipulator late Monday.

“My heart sunk a little bit” after China’s announcement, said Mary Kay Thatcher, a fifth-generation Iowa farmer and current farm lobbyist on Capitol Hill, in an interview with CNBC.

“That’s a hard hit for us, it’s going to make life difficult,” she said. “Farmers are still a bit stunned about the announcement that they’re not gonna buy anything.”

Farmers aren’t the only ones affected. Trump’s battle with China over trade deficits, alleged intellectual property theft and forced tech transfers has repeatedly spooked investors around the world. And polls show that his biggest moves in the trade war — namely, slapping tariffs on billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese goods — aren’t especially popular with the broader public.

But U.S. soybean, pork and dairy farmers in particular have seen their revenue from China evaporate as China scaled up its own tariffs on U.S. imports, now worth $110 billion.

Chinese buyers imported $19.5 billion in U.S. farm goods in 2017, a number that was more than halved the following year as the tariffs made U.S. agriculture products more pricey, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The U.S. currently leverages 25% tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods. And Trump has shown no indication that he’s willing to back down against Beijing, though his surrogates have suggested that the White House is willing to be flexible on the new tariffs, depending on what happens in the next round of trade talks, scheduled for September.

Trump, who has dubbed himself a “tariff man,” has often asserted that China bears the brunt of the tariffs and that the U.S. is taking in “tens of billions of dollars” from the import taxes. But while tariffs make Chinese goods more expensive for Americans to buy, U.S. importers are the ones who directly pay the taxes.

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