How Trump’s Trade Madness Hurts Virginia Farmers

by Peter Galuszka

Virginia farmers are paying a big price for President Donald Trump’s chaotic trade war with China. If anything, it’s likely to get worse as Trump vows even bigger tariffs, drops the idea and then comes back to it.

There’s no question that Trump’s peculiar negotiating behavior and questionable logic are having their effect.

China had been Virginia agriculture’s number one export destination with soybeans leading the list, along with apples, livestock and other products.

In 2017, China bought $671 million worth of farm goods from state farmers. Then, Trump became president and quickly imposed a series of tariffs against China about a year and a half ago. Exports to China dropped precipitously to $235 million. Canada is now Virginia’s biggest export partner for agriculture.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, The U.S. exported $19.5 billion of farm goods nationally to China in 2017.  Trump’s tariffs cut that to $9.1 billion the following year.

“It has had a big effect,” Elaine Lidholm, director of the office of communications for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services told me. She doesn’t expect things to get better soon.

Virginia’s leading Democratic politicians – Gov. Ralph Northam and U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner – have tried to draw attention to the Trumpian mess. Northam, who grew up in the farmlands of the Eastern Shore, has said that soybeans in local fields have lost two thirds of their value.

Republicans, shy of confronting the twitter-crazed, former reality television star – haven’t really spoken much about the matter.

Ironically, Trump’s policies have sparked more government spending. Last year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture expanded a program to buy farmers crops to help mitigate their export losses. USDA then sells the goods to school nutrition programs and food banks.

The other irony with Trump’s beating up on China is that it backfires. Many experts note that it doesn’t change Chinese government behavior and sticks Americans with the bill for higher prices, since China supplies the U.S. with millions of smart phones, clothing, televisions and lots more.

Trump‘s erratic and endless cycle of insulting trade partners and allies while promising more tariffs make it very difficult for farmers and other business owners to plan for the future. They can’t know how much to plant or how much fertilizer to buy.

To be sure, there is plenty to be concerned about regarding the Chinese and trade. The Middle Kingdom is famous for stealing intellectual property, messing with deals and playing with currency exchange rates.

There are real concerns with China’s police state mentality when it comes to gathering information. It is the main reason why there are so many worries that Huawei, the Chinese information technology giant could use the next generation of 5G smartphones to glean information about Americans just as they do at home very successfully.

There also have been reputable worries that if the Chinese sell the Washington Metro system passenger cars, they could come fixed with microphones and other detection devices that might track workers going and coming from such secure employment places like the Pentagon.

It’s not laughable or really new. In the 1980s, for example, the U.S. State Department was building a new chancery building at its Moscow embassy. U.S. officials did not check what Russian workers were doing too closely and it turned out that the KGB had used the rebar in walls to act as a giant microphone. That delayed opening the facility for months.

Such behavior does not mean that the U.S. should shun China as a trading partner. It has a huge and growing economy that cannot be ignored.

U.S. business has been gaining footholds there since Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping starting making the country’s command economy more capitalist more than 30 years ago.

These are the realities the U.S., and Virginia, must face. There are smarter ways to do it than having Trump zap tariffs on whatever he feels like and then to “order” U.S. companies to pack up and leave China. Of course, he doesn’t have the legal authority to do that. It’s just another lie and tweet that will be forgotten.

One wonders how this “order” will affect Smithfield Foods. The iconic Virginia pork producer noted for its Virginia ham was founded in 1936 and quickly became a giant agribusiness. In 2013, China’s Shuanghiu Group (now known as WH Group) bought Smithfield Foods in a deal priced at about $7 billion. That made the Chinese the effective owner of thousands of acres of property and equipment. Thousands of Virginians and other Americans are working for the Chinese. Despite Trump’s tweets, it is doubtful the Chinese will give the firm back to its original owners.

Meanwhile, it is disappointing that Bacon’s Rebellion, and other state media outlets, don’t mention Trump much when it comes to assessing his impact on the state. It seems as if he is downplayed because his presence in the White House is an embarrassing problem for state Republicans.

There are currently no comments highlighted.

20 responses to “How Trump’s Trade Madness Hurts Virginia Farmers

  1. “These are the realities the U.S., and Virginia, must face. There are smarter ways to do it than having Trump zap tariffs on whatever he feels like and then to “order” U.S. companies to pack up and leave China.”

    Can you give some concrete suggestions of how to deal with Chinese Communist dishonesty and authoritarianism? Are there remedies you can suggest for our massive over-dependence on Chinese trade?

  2. Anonymous,
    Here are a few ideas:
    (1) Have a clear and intelligent trade policy with China. Trump does not.
    (2) Work with allies to force China to have reasonable trade policies. Trump alienates our allies whenever he can.
    (3) Encourage U.S. companies that deal with china to have tough and fair contracts and enforce them.
    (4) Be wary of too many Chinese students using the U.S. higher education system to get cutting edge technology and then take it home.
    (5) Make it clear to China that its Internet suppression and harrasment of minorities are not acceptable.
    (6) Show support for Hong Kong independence. Trump has not.
    (

  3. “Capitalists will sell you the rope to hang them with.” Lenin

    Free trade good! Orange man bad!

    First, the Chinese have never practiced free trade with the United States and a steady succession of gutless US CEOs and milquetoast politicians have let them get away with unfair trade. The net effect of that unfair trade was the enrichment of a totalitarian regime with a president for life which has incarcerated 1m of its citizens for the “crime” of being Muslim, unabashedly spies on its citizens punishing those who hold anti-government sentiments, militarized the South China Sea and denies even partial freedom in Hong Kong.

    And it’s not just currency manipulation. China’s Army was caught hacking US corporations in an effort to steal proprietary information, China demands that technology secrets be shared with local partners and feckless CEOs looking for quarterly profits are only too happy to oblige, China stole an astounding 23 million personnel records of federal workers – including many who work in the national security and intelligence establishment in the OMB hack. China broke World Trade Organization rules giving hundreds of billions of dollars of illegal subsidies to domestic industries to try and dominate the global economy. Named Made in China 2025, this initiative was designed to ensure that China’s electric cars, solar panels, 5G equipment and artificial intelligence technologies not only dominate the Chinese domestic market, but the global economy.

    Peter talks about China’s Smithfield acquisition. Three quarters of the acquisitions China has made of American companies would not have been allowed in reverse due to Chinese law.

    How fascinating that the presidential candidates on the left are only too quick to want to take Americans’ hard earned (and already taxed) personal property in an effort to implement socialism while screaming bloody murder that tariffs on an outlaw state might harm certain groups in the US.

  4. Ripper, i agree that trade with china has never been free. I did not say it was. I agree that american officials and executives have been spineless about china. When did i back socialist property grabs? I am just saying that trump has no real policy and it is hurting americans. Do you agree?

    • I never have been able to decide whether Trump has a plan but is inarticulate in explaining his plan or he doesn’t have a plan and (obviously) can’t explain the plan he doesn’t actually have. I hope it’s the former.

      My guess is that Trump is used to back office real estate dealings where the public is provided “mushroom management” – feed ’em cow dung and keep ’em in the dark. He should have realized by now that the president has to be more transparent than a real estate developer.

      You state that he has no policy and he’s hurting Americans. I’d say “maybe” and “maybe”. His policy could be as simple as assuming the US can outlast China in a trade war. When they blink we’ll get a more level playing field. Some companies are already looking to Vietnam, Bangladesh, etc as alternate sources of production. While this doesn’t bring jobs back to America it does limit the concentration pf economic power in one of the world’s most dangerous totalitarian regimes.

      As for hurting Americans – yes, a trade war hurts Americans. Kind of like a vaccine shot hurts a little kid’ arm. The question i whether we were headed for a much bigger world of hurt if we stayed the Bush – Clinton – Bush – Obama path. In my opinion the Chinese were getting out of hand and needed a comeuppance. The Spratly Islands affair put it over the top for me.

  5. Nearly all Americans have big concerns about Chinese trade policy — for all the reasons listed by both Peter and Don. The question before us is what to do about it.

    I’ll give Trump credit for one thing. He’s actually trying to do something. None of his predecessors had the guts to take on the challenge.

    But I agree with Peter on this one. Trump’s approach is totally disjointed. In an ideal world, he would have prioritized his trade concerns. By any logical reckoning, China is the biggest abuser, the biggest threat, and the top priority. Rather than alienating our NAFTA partners and our EU partners, he should have worked with them to create a common front against China — which he could have done because our trade partners have most of the same concerns that we do. A united front of all of China’s trading partners would have a much greater chance of extracting meaningful concessions — at less pain to American farmers and manufacturers.

    • The fatal flaw in Jim Bacon’s argument above is his use of the word “logical.” The world ain’t logical. Never has been. Never will be. Logic has little to do with human behavior.

      Thus, the way forward is now becoming clear. Only Trump has the raw courage, enormous fortitude and energy, incredibly salient life experience, cunning and smarts to solve the “China problem, the Iran Problem, and North Korea Problem,” at one and same time.

      World leaders now are beginning to see, feel, and believe this now obvious fact Trump that is making clear. See last weekend’s G-7 as proof.

      Trump is now rapidly empowering himself to do what no other American President has done since Reagan, FDR, and Teddy Roosevelt. All three radically changed direction, dynamic and consequences of what happened in our world in the 2ost century, as Trump now is doing for 21st Century.

    • Corrected for dyslexia, and elaboration-

      The fatal flaw in Jim Bacon’s argument above is his use of the word “logical.” The world ain’t logical. Never has been. Never will be. Logic has little to do with human behavior, and/or the chain of human events.

      Thus, our way forward is now becoming clear. Only Trump has the raw courage, enormous fortitude and energy, incredibly salient life experience, cunning and smarts to solve the “China problem, Iran Problem, and North Korea Problem” at one and same time.

      World leaders now are beginning to see, feel, and believe this now obvious fact that Trump’s actions are beginning to make clear. See last weekend’s G-7 as proof.

      Trump is now rapidly empowering himself to do what no other American President has done since Reagan, FDR, and Teddy Roosevelt. The last three radically changed direction, dynamic and consequences of what happened in our world in the 2ost century, as Trump now is doing for the world in the 21st Century.

  6. Clearly Trump caused all this damp, cloudy weather at OBX. If I want to read about Trump’s foibles I’ve got Blue Va, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, WaPo, NYT, AOL, ABC, CBS, and 500 other outlets. Even Bearing Drift. So now Bacon’s Rebellion will become “All Trump, All The Time?” Goodie.

  7. Let me see if I can clarify my basic question: another way to put it would be to ask, “What would do if you were President?” Not, “What would you like to turn out to be the case?” or “What would you like to be the outcome of otherwise unspecified actions?” but “What, concretely, would you _do_?” To your suggestions:

    1) “”a clear and intelligent trade policy”. Yes, that sounds good. What is that policy? You don’t like Trump’s version (for the record, neither do I). What would you like our trade policy with China to be, and how would you pursue it?

    2) “reasonable trade policies”. Yes. _What are those policies?_

    3) You’ve already admitted that in any area involving IP (most of the modern goods economy) it’s not possible to enforce “tough and fair contracts” in China, so I’m not sure what this idea means. In addition, the argument Trump’s supporters are implicitly making is that the problem is structural and based on the behavior of China’s government and therefore cannot be fixed by the action of individual businesses.

    4) We agree on this.

    5) How exactly shall we make that clear? By economic sanctions of some kind? Anything more toothless seems unlikely to be more fruitful than decades of efforts have already proved.

    6) I am utterly at a loss to understand how this would help America’s trade problems with mainland China. You seem to be suggesting that we do something that will enrage the Chinese government at least as much as anything that comes out of the President’s mouth. (For the record, I quite agree with you that we should show support for HK independence, but I have no idea why you think this would help our trade negotiations with the one country in the world most opposed to HK independence.)

  8. I’m not sure Trump’s policies are the best. But I don’t hear any solutions from anyone else as to how to force free and fair trade standards on China. And, of course, the butt-licking MSM doesn’t dig into anything beyond “We don’t like Trump.”

    https://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2019/08/new-york-times-whines-boo-hoo.php

  9. The US did not get into this position overnight, it has been a long time coming. The Chinese have successfully “hacked” the global financial/political system of the western economies, exploiting it for their own gain. They violate the rules of international agreements and can do so because of their market power.

    “Doing something, anything” is deemed to be “OK” by some, because, well, Trump is “doing something.” I hear this from many supporters and can’t believe I heard it here.

    “Industrial policy” is a no no and non-starter politically. The market, run by financiers and multi-nationals has allowed this to occur because each player sees/saw a market of 1B and does not want to lose to others who may want to enforce rules of behavior and compliance.

    Western countries have also fallen into this, not wanting to lose the Chinese market to another western power.

    China, through the numerous investments globally, their Belt and Road initiative, and their Asian development bank, is also thinking strategically to the time when they are the new system, and the western powers will just have to deal with it. Checkmate.

    As for a solution, there are no “nationalistic” corporations headquartered in the USA anymore. They are not going to play ball with an “America First” policy via tweet and edict from the WH.

    This is not an easy problem to solve and certainly not in our current political climate or with our current political leadership.

    The US needs to do multiple things at once and recognize the larger issues at play (its chess not checkers) and develop a new “Washington Consensus” if that concept is even possible today.

    • “As for a solution, there are no “nationalistic” corporations headquartered in the USA anymore. They are not going to play ball with an “America First” policy via tweet and edict from the WH.”

      Don’t fool yourself. While there may not be any ‘nationalistic” corporations headquartered in the US anymore there are plenty of American corporations who see China’s government as thieves who will steal them blind before taking over the industries they build in China. These executives fear losing the appearance of momentum versus their competitors but, given an out, will diversify out of China to a significant extent. Trump’s tariffs have given them the out they needed. China may be a huge market but the rest of the world is still a bigger market. If it costs +30% to buy components from China for assembly in the US then the companies will get their components elsewhere.

      “Doing something, anything” is deemed to be “OK” by some, because, well, Trump is “doing something.” I hear this from many supporters and can’t believe I heard it here.

      Yeah, and the last four administrations did nothing despite the long litany of free trade violations committed by China.

      This is a national defense issue far more than it is a trade or industrial policy issue.

  10. re: ” Are there remedies you can suggest for our massive over-dependence on Chinese trade?”

    Well, you don’t turn the decision over to one guy who thinks he is King!

    AND, you work with your Allies to put pressure on China , the same way we put economic pressure on North Korea, Iran and other countries that can’t behave.

    And if you are in Congress – you step up and support common-sense rational approaches to the problem instead of hiding in the closet in fear from offending the current King POTUS.

    ALL this crappola about the misuse of Executive Orders by the prior POTUS and look at what we have right now a petty arrogant wannbe 3rd world strongman… an idiot…. who is doing dire harm to a lot of us institutions and who divides the country on issues like race and immigration, health care, the EPA, Climate, you name it.

    • “Well, you don’t turn the decision over to one guy who thinks he is King!”

      I guess we were better off turning the decision over to the last four guys who must have thought they were ostriches since they stuck their heads deep in the sand and pretended the problem didn’t exist.

      As usual the Democrats start a divisive course of events and then act surprised when Republicans continue the divineness. The personal hatred of the president began with Democrats who went into Bush Derangement Syndrome when he supposedly “stole” the 2000 election. Then came Obama Derangement Syndrome. Now we have Trump Derangement Syndrome. Obama started using presidential orders like a dictator when he couldn’t get his way with a Republican Congress. Now Trump is doing the same. Are any of the Democratic candidates for president swearing off the excessive use of presidential orders of they are elected?

  11. Steve,
    Don’t worry. I won’t be writing a steady diatribe against Trump. Others do it better. But you are write that Trump is responsible for your shitty weather on the Outer Banks. You may be right.

  12. Ripper,
    You are getting somewhere

  13. Ha. I wasn’t going to comment but the very next email I opened had this quote:

    “Do not listen to those who weep and complain, for their disease is contagious.”
    — Og Mandino

    I’ll say at least Trump has the cojones to try and do something with this 30 year mess.

    • I agree. If today’s trade war ended this afternoon and we went back to where we were at the end of the Obama Administration by tomorrow morning … at least the issue is now in the national spotlight.

Leave a Reply