Biden would change trade policy if elected president

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden visits a metal works plant in Pennsylvania earlier this month. The former vice-president promises to end the tariff war with China and repair trade relations with allies.  |  Reuters/Tom Brenner photo

Much can happen before the November United States presidential election but at this point the vast majority of polls show a win for Joe Biden so let’s peak into what that might mean for agriculture on both sides of the border.

Biden’s campaign website has a page devoted to the Democratic nominee’s plan for rural America.

There is lots of feel good rhetoric about the importance of rural America and he promises to rebuild the economy there to ensure “the wealth created in rural America stays in rural America.”

He promises to increase support for rural health care and provide rural communities resources to address poverty and access federal support. He commits US$20 billion to rural broadband internet infrastructure and would help network providers get service into rural homes and businesses.

He would also improve support for beginning farmers and work with small- and medium-sized producers to build supply chains, giving them access to major institutional food buyers such as schools and hospitals.

The rural platform reflects Biden’s overall commitment to “build back better,” meaning a plan to recover from the COVID-19 health crisis and economic recession by investing in sustainable infrastructure and what he calls “equitable clean energy.”

In the rural platform, this means pursuing “a trade policy that works for American farmers.”

There is little detail but rather complaints about President Donald Trump’s tariff trade war with China, described as “damaging and erratic” and “without any real strategy.”

The document says Biden will “stand up to China by working with our allies to negotiate from the strongest possible position.”

Trump touts his campaign against China as one of the greatest successes of his presidency. The tit for tat tariff war slashed American farm exports to China but the pain was offset by billions of dollars in extra support to farmers called the Market Facilitation Program. 

The University of Missouri’s Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute calculates that program and other direct farm aid in total has soared to top $32 billion this year from $11.5 billion in 2017.

But the disruption was worth it, Trump argues, as it produced an agreement under which China committed to increase purchases from the U.S. by $200 billion over two years, including $32 billion in farm products.

China is currently well behind the pace needed to reach that total but purchases have risen recently.

Farm groups urge that farm aid continue until China meets its targets and also want more billions to help them cope with losses caused by COVID disruptions.

Trump’s tariff war significantly affected Canadian farmers, as falling soybean and pork prices leaked over to weaken canola prices and Canadian pork.

Biden is against the tariff war. And it appears he would try to replace the one-on-one aspect of the China-U.S. competition by mending relations with traditional allies, which Trump also hit with tariffs, to lead a multilateral response to China. 

Over Biden’s long career in government he has generally supported trade liberalization.

But he also likes to talk up his links to blue collar labour, and so expect his policies will favour U.S.-made products and jobs.

And the campaign’s emphasis on the American economy being net-zero on carbon emission by 2050 could also result in the U.S. having requirements that imports meet certain carbon standards.

Beyond trade, Biden’s rural policy focuses on helping U.S. agriculture meet the environmental goals he has set out.

This includes expanding programs that use government and price money to pay farmers for practices that protect the environment, such as carbon sequestration. 

Biden also supports bio-based manufacturing using agricultural goods as feedstock for chemicals, materials, fabrics, and fibres. His presidency would support value chains of researchers, manufacturers, employers, unions, and state and local governments to expand bio manufacturing in rural areas.

His campaign also proposes a $400 billion investment in clean energy research, innovation and deployment. Part of the money would be for research into cellulosic biofuels.

The Trump administration’s sympathy for oil refiners’ complaints about blending ethanol has generated strong criticism from the biofuel industry.

Biden also supports solar and wind power generation, an area scorned by Trump.

Finally, Biden’s proposed national infrastructure program would include investments in modernizing the country’s river lock and dam system upon which so much grain moves to export ports.

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