SAN ANTONIO, Texas — Rural America is largely credited with giving Donald Trump the U.S. presidency, but there is one policy area where farmers are not happy with the White House.
Trump’s protectionist actions and rhetoric have put him at odds with his biggest supporters.
John Heisdorffer, vice-president of the American Soybean Association, said the group is upset that Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement days after his inauguration.
The association spent the last three years working on the agreement.
“We thought we had her right to the point last fall,” he said.
“After you put that time and work into it, it was kind of devastating.”
One of the association’s priorities is to ensure Trump follows through on his word to negotiate bilateral deals with some of the TPP participants.
“He said he’s going to somehow get better deals, so we’ve got to stay optimistic that he can hold true on that,” said Heisdorffer.
Trade was top of mind for all of the major farm groups at the 2017 Commodity Classic, a gathering of U.S. corn, soybean, wheat and sorghum growers.
Wesley Spurlock, president of the National Corn Growers Association, expressed concern that Trump wants to reopen the North American Free Trade Agreement and has alienated Mexican politicians with his protectionist rhetoric and threats of a tariff on imported Mexican goods to pay for a wall to keep illegal immigrants out of the United States.
Mexico has become the largest market for U.S. corn exports under NAFTA, and the corn growers association does not want to risk losing that market.
A Mexican senator says he is going to introduce a bill to source all of the country’s corn from South America instead of the U.S.
Spurlock is not overly concerned about the threat. He said the senator has ulterior motives for talking about introducing such a bill.
“He is a senator that is trying to make a name for himself to try and run for president,” he said.
Still, the threat of retaliation makes him nervous, not only for corn but for U.S. meat exports because a lot of corn is fed to the livestock that produce that meat.
Brett Blankenship, past-president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, is also concerned about trade because about 45 percent of the U.S. wheat crop is exported.
The World Trade Organization recognizes 250 bilateral trade agreements around the world. The U.S. is party to only 17 of those agreements.
“We had an opportunity to catch up in a great way with the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” he said.
Blankenship said the wheat industry was very much in favour of the agreement and was upset when Trump pulled out. He would like to see Trump’s administration negotiate bilateral agreements with TPP countries as soon as possible in lieu of signing the TPP.
“It seems to be a lot more legwork, but it would be very important to accomplish that,” he said.
Soybean growers are also worried about Trump’s constant provocation of China, a market that consumes 30 percent of U.S. soybean exports.
“Every fourth row of soybeans goes to China. That’s pretty dramatic for us,” said Heisdorffer.
He is pleased that Trump has chosen Iowa Governor Terry Branstad to be the next U.S. ambassador to China. Brandstad is friends with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“He has a very good relationship with President Xi,” said Heisdorffer.
He hopes that relationship will help smooth diplomatic relations between the two global superpowers and keep U.S. soybeans flowing to China.