Commentary: Delaware farmers caught in the middle of China trade war

From currency manipulation, to state-owned enterprises, to allegations of technology and intellectual property theft — we’ve known for some time that the Chinese government hasn’t been playing on a level playing field.

It’s why I was cautiously optimistic when the incoming Trump Administration pledged to take these unfair trade practices seriously. Two years, many rounds of tariffs, and one failed trade war later, I’ve watched as commodity prices have plummeted and family farms have suffered. I’ve watched as many have done so without so much as a word, believing that their short-term pain was in service of the country’s long-term gain.

“At what point do we reverse course?” That was the question I had for U.S. trade negotiators when they came to visit the House Agriculture Committee, which I served on last year. At that time, we were a little over a year into a trade war with China and the administration was continuing to lob higher and higher tariffs back and forth with Beijing.

The answer I got back from the negotiators was unsettling — “we don’t know.” The administration had decided on the weapon they wanted to use in a trade war but had no actual strategy on how to use it, or more importantly, when to stop.

Like many others, I was encouraged by reports that there was potentially light at the end of the tunnel when it came to a trade deal with China. That’s why it was that much more discouraging when things seemed to fall apart at the 11th hour. When that happened, the administration seemed to revert to the only play in their playbook — more tariffs. Unfortunately, farmers know all too well what the impact is — higher taxes on their crops.

Lisa Blunt Rochester

We know how important trade is in Delaware. According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, Delaware exported $4.5 billion in goods in 2016, and in 2015, our farmers exported $252 million in agricultural products. International trade supports an estimated 24,000 jobs in our state. Bottom line: How the federal government chooses to conduct trade matters in our state.

It’s also why holding bad actors in the international market accountable is equally important. While I applaud the Trump administration for standing up to China, waging a full-fledged trade war with no comprehensive strategy is the wrong approach. To make matters worse, it’s our farmers who have been caught in the crossfire of this trade war.

That’s why, last week I introduced H.R. 2690, the Trade Assistance for Farmers Act of 2019. My bill would permanently expand the existing Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program to protect our agricultural exporters who are negatively impacted by trade policies.

Under the current program, farmers and growers are eligible for TAA benefits when they experience hardship from increased imports. However, the program does not help farmers when their exports are hit by retaliatory tariffs. My bill would fix that.

It’s my sincere hope that the sdministration can reach an agreement with China, but our farmers have been left on the hook for too long. It’s time to take them out of the crossfire of this trade war and give them the certainty they deserve. “We don’t know,” isn’t good enough anymore. When some of us hurt, we all hurt.

Lisa Blunt Rochester is the U.S. representative for Delaware’s lone congressional district

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