Monday, March 13, 2017

In Trump country, farmers, blue-collar workers split on president's trade proposals

Dawson County, Nebraska (Wikipedia map)
In some areas of Trump country, farmers continue to back the president, even if they know his "trade proposals could spell more trouble for the struggling farm economy," Grant Gerlock reports for NET News/Harvest Public Media.For instance, Dawson County, Nebraska corn and soybean farmer Don Batie, who supports Trump in a county where he won 70 percent of the vote, said what his business needs is higher commodity prices.

"One way to accomplish that, is by growing trade to increase demand for American crops," Gerlock writes. "Batie says Trump’s rhetoric about shaking up longtime trade relationships like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico could work against that." Batie told Gerlock, “That is one of the concerns that I and many of my fellow farmers have with the Trump administration is what he’s been saying on trade. You know, he wants to renegotiate the NAFTA agreement. He vetoed, or cancelled, the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.”

While many voters saw TPP as a path to outsourcing, "it would have made American farm exports cheaper in much of Asia and was supported by most farm industry groups," Gerlock writes. "Now, Batie worries those countries will shop around with competing grain exporters in South America. Then there’s Trump’s campaign proposal to put big tariffs on Chinese imports. China bought $10.5 billion of soybeans from the U.S. in 2015. It is second among export markets for American farm products between Canada and Mexico. That’s why, when farmers hears 'tariffs,' they worry about a trade war."

"Others in Dawson County like where President Trump is going with trade and hope his tough stance with trading partners can protect blue-collar jobs in the U.S.," Gerlock writes. While farming is the region's biggest industry, it wasn't always that way. The Tenneco factory, which made shock absorbers, mostly for car companies, once employed 750 people in Cozad, said Junior Dishman, who worked at the plant for 40 years. He said when the plant closed "many young families followed jobs out of town while older workers with deeper roots stayed."

Dishman said he "doesn’t want to see farmers suffer, but many more small towns have still have factories of their own and he wants to see them stay open," Gerlock writes. "That’s what makes trade policy difficult in an area like Dawson County, because it involves trade-offs that cut different ways through rural America."

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