Playing the Trump card |

Playing the Trump card

Joe Dooling of Helena, Mont., hosted Kun Liu, Washington correspondent for China Radio International to his farm and ranch for a day. They spent the day discussing ag production and trade issues. Photo by Keni Reese, courtesy Montana Stockgrowers Association.

Joe Dooling says his favorite part of the day hosting Kun Liu, a Washington correspondent for China Radio International, to his farm and ranch near Helena, Mont., was when they were driving in his farm truck and she asked, “What do you think of guns?”

“I said, ‘Look above you,’ – there were two right there. She was a bit uncomfortable but I took one down and told her you can’t be uneasy with them, that’s what makes them dangerous.”

Dooling was asked by the Montana Stockgrowers Association to share his cattle, farming and hay production systems with Liu at her request to profile a rancher in the wake of the Trump-China trade disputes. They spent the day looking at cattle, talking about beef production, smelling hay, and discussing international trade issues between their countries.

Liu isn’t the only one in the media looking at the farm sector in relation to the Trump trade wars. Considerable ink has been printed in regard to China this year as tariffs were raised alongside summer crops.

Since July 2018 the Trump administration has imposed a total of approximately $250 billion in tariffs on imported Chinese products, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The Chinese have retaliated in $110 billion against American-made products. Caught with a crippling loss of market share are farmers and ag producers – historically some of Trump’s biggest supporters.

The spat – although with the livelihoods of American farmers at risk it could hardly be called just that anymore – is rooted in the issues of forced technology transfer and intellectual property practices. Forced technology transfer is a practice common in China in which they demand foreign businesses share technology in exchange for market access. Intellectual property violations include trademark and copyright infringement, both common and damaging practices detailed in a 7-month investigation in early 2017 led by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

During their farm tour, Dooling says he showed Liu his American-made Dewalt power drill, and then handed her another brand made in China. “I said, ‘These are the exact same drill – someone copied someone. Who do you think copied who?” Liu admitted there were some issues in that arena.

U.S. and Chinese officials met in both May and July, coming close to a meaningful trade solution. However, talks imploded in the wake of Chinese resistance to intellectual compliance.

U.S. Senator Steve Daines of Montana visited China in early September to talk ag trade with vice premier Liu He – the Chinese equivalent to the Speaker of the House. Daines says he delivered “a strong message to top-level Chinese officials that they must come to the table and reach a long-term solution for trade. Putting our farmers and ranchers on a level playing field globally is a huge opportunity for Montana ag, and we must hold China accountable for unfair trade and IP theft.”

Daines brought with him letters from Montana’s three primary ag commodity organizations: the Montana Stockgrowers Association, the Montana Wool Growers Association and the Montana Grain Growers Association, all urging increased and open trade access for Montana and U.S. beef, lamb, wool and grains.

Senator Daines’ press secretary, Julia Doyle, said that while Daines was in China it was announced that an October meeting would happen between Chinese vice premier Liu He, U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer and U.S. Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin. This news has producers hopeful, and, along with a Sept. 12 announcement that Chinese companies have started making inquiries about prices of American soybeans and pork, saw the CME Lean Hogs shoot up the limit.

However, on Oct. 15 Trump is expected to place another round of tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports, with an additional round planned for Dec. 15 on all remaining Chinese goods including laptops and mobile phones.

And rural America watches and waits, like a pawn preventing checkmate.

“The Chinese are pretty smart and America is a pretty transparent place,” says Dooling. “It’s not too hard for China to figure out how to put pressure on a president to make him waive.”

He says the media has tried very hard to drive a wedge between farmers and ranchers and Trump, but the vast majority of people in ag still support the president. A recent Farm Journal Pulse survey asked if respondents approve or disapprove of the way President Trump is handling his job. In June 74 percent approved, and in July that number jumped to 79 percent. By August it crept down but was still at a relatively strong 71 percent. Outside of the trade wars, impacts of the Trump administration have positively affected the ag sector. The repeal of Waters of the U.S., pressure to reform immigration labor, emphasis on multi-use of federal lands and an overall healthier job market and economy have bolstered those who have always believed in “Making America Great Again.”

Dooling says throughout the day he remained unwavering in his support, reiterating, “We want a deal, but we want the right deal and we will continue to support Trump.” By the end of Liu’s visit, Dooling says he felt her takeaway was we are growing high quality food and we are doing it the right way.

“I let her know I believe most Montana farmers and ranchers want free, unrestricted access to trade. If we do that, we’ll out-produce with both quality and quantity anyone else in the world.”

But while we are producing the most and the best, how much more can the price foundation of commodities crack before the support gives way? Farmers and ranchers should hold out hope the October negotiations will see some solutions built between U.S. and China.

Perhaps, using matching power drills.