WASHINGTON — Major American farm groups sounded an alarm Monday after China halted U.S. agriculture imports, signaling a key Republican political constituency is losing patience with President Donald Trump’s escalating trade war.
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation’s largest and most influential general farm organization, called China’s import cut-off “a body blow to thousands of farmers and ranchers who are already struggling to get by.”
Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, the nation’s second-largest general farm group, said Trump’s “strategy of constant escalation and antagonism” has “just made things worse.” America’s family farmers and ranchers “can’t withstand this kind of pressure much longer.”
China halted purchases of U.S. farm imports over the weekend after Trump threatened a wider expansion of tariffs on Chinese goods amid stalled trade talks. Along with the ripple effects in the agricultural industry, the worsening trade war stoked fears in financial markets as U.S. stocks plunged the most in the year.
Duvall said the tariff war is worsening the plight of a farm sector already reeling from low commodity prices and bad weather. U.S farm exports to China had already fallen $1.3 billion during the first half of the year, he said.
“Now, we stand to lose all of what was a $9.1 billion market in 2018, which was down sharply from the $19.5 billion farmers exported to China in 2017,” Duvall said.
Trump has regularly sought to maintain backing from farmers by suggesting his trade fights were on the verge of producing big wins for them. He told the Farm Bureau’s annual convention in January that his administration was “doing trade deals that are going to get you so much business, you’re not even going to believe it.”
Yet the latest tit-for-tat battle between Washington and Beijing has turned analysts deeply pessimistic on any near-term resolution to the trade fight and raised the prospect of protracted standoff damaging to both sides.
The administration tried to blunt the trade war’s financial toll on farmers with $12 billion in trade aid last year and another $16 billion in trade assistance this year.
Trump won overwhelming backing from rural voters in 2016 and their continued enthusiastic support is crucial to his re-election bid. In June, 54% of rural voters approved of Trump’s job performance compared with a national approval rating of 42%, according to a Gallup survey of 701 self-identified rural voters.