Vice President Mike Pence, a former free-trade advocate, watches President Trump withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership in January 2017.
Vice President Mike Pence, a former free-trade advocate, watches President Trump withdraw from the Trans Pacific Partnership in January 2017.

INDIANAPOLIS – This has been a tough spring on Indiana’s grain belt. Because of the soggy weather, the percentage of corn and soybean crops in the field hovers between 1% and 6%. Commodity prices are tanking. And the political giant in rural Indiana,  President Donald Trump, has plotted a course that puts farmers in the global crosshairs. With trade talks faltering between the Unites States and China, and Trump ratcheting up tariffs from 10% to 25% last Friday, there is no end in sight.

Hoosier Ag Today’s Eric Pfeiffer reported: We’ve all heard the expression, “When it rains, it pours.” Rensselaer farmer and Indiana Farm Bureau Vice President Kendell Culp says farmers are being poured on, literally and figuratively at the moment, testing their patience. “Because of planting delays, because of rain, and because of lower prices every day, and comments made by the administration which causes an immediate drop in in commodity prices, and really no relief in sight, no deals in sight … It’s just time and, the farmers, I just think they’re out of patience.”

Even if we did have an agreement that was hammered out and announced in the short-term, “the destruction caused in the marketplace and the concern about the U.S. maybe is not such a reliable trading partner, this effect is going to have a long tail and I think it’s going to go along for multiple growing seasons  before we get back to anywhere near the position we were at before the trade disruption,” Culp said. 

There’s a structural problem with Trump’s love for tariffs and it can be traced back to one of the most fateful decisions of his presidency, his withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership in January 2017. It fulfilled one of Trump’s oft-stated campaign promises, but apparently Trump’s rural base didn’t understand the long-term implications. The TPP was designed to create a trading coalition based on Western values and rule of law under American leadership. When the U.S. withdrew, the other Pacific Rim nations did not follow, instead cutting their own deals with the Chinese, who rushed in to fill the vacuum. 

Rand Corporation analyst Timothy R. Heath explained that the TPP was designed as U.S. approach to a “rising China.” Heath observes, “By strengthening its leadership, bolstering its alliances and partnerships, and revitalizing an international order, Washington hoped to provide China strong incentives to integrate into and support a U.S.-led order. America’s withdrawal from the TPP in January 2017 marks a major blow to these ambitions.”

The withdrawal has “exacerbated regional doubts about U.S. international leadership and of its role in Asia,” Heath explained. “TPP’s fate powerfully communicated U.S. ambivalence about Asia, because the American people appeared to repudiate the trade deal by electing a president and congressional legislators opposed to it.”

So now President Trump goes it alone, pitting himself against Chinese President-for-Life Xi, who is now in position to simply wait the isolated American president out. There is no incentive for China to make concessions this month, nor in late June at the G-20, and certainly not in 2020 when Trump is fighting for his political life in an uncertain reelection bid. On top of this, Trump’s ignorance on the basics of trade has even been exposed by his own administration. Trump believes that China is “paying for the tariffs,” just as he insisted Mexico would pay for the wall. Both were abject fallacies.