Pence: ‘We have a ways to go’ in settling trade war with China

In a speech at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, Vice President Mike Pence pointed on Thursday to China’s promises to roughly double its purchases of U.S. farm exports as evidence that there is “no greater fighter on trade than President Donald Trump.” The pledge was part of the “phase one” agreement that de-escalated the Sino-U.S. trade war and is scheduled for a six-month review by the two nations this weekend.

Pence also listed the United States-Canada-Mexico Agreement, which took effect in July, as part of the administration’s record of accomplishments. The speech, billed as the launch of “Farmers and Ranchers for Trump,” was filled with appeals to patriotism and tradition. Farmers are a staunchly conservative group. Rural voters were key to Trump’s election in 2016.

The Trump administration sent $23 billion to farmers and ranchers to mitigate the impact of the trade war on crop and livestock production in 2018 and 2019. U.S. farm exports, which sagged as a result of the trade war, have been pressured this year by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Now, we have a ways to go,” said Pence, after thanking the Farm Belt for supporting Trump’s campaign to reform Chinese trade practices. “And most of the tariffs the president put in place are still there. But it’s a beginning.”

China, which prefers to shop at harvesttime, when prices are low, is far short of meeting its commitment to buy $36.6 billion worth of U.S. food, agricultural, and seafood products this year. Chinese importers made two purchases of U.S. corn, totaling 3.7 million tonnes, in July, and have been making regular purchases of pork and soybeans. The purchases have stirred hope that China will return to its spot as the No. 1 customer for U.S. farm goods.

Although Trump has warmed and cooled toward “phase one” since signing the pact in mid-January, it has endured amid rising acrimony between the nations on other issues, including blame for the pandemic.

Pence spoke with a handful of farmers about the impact of the derecho that blew across Iowa early this week. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds estimated that 10 million acres of cropland in the state as well as grain bins and buildings were damaged.

The Iowa Renewable Fuels Association, in a letter to Pence, called on the administration to protect corn ethanol against the oil industry by rejecting refinery requests for exemptions from the Renewable Fuel Standard and by announcing an ethanol mandate of 15 billion gallons for 2021. “It would not be an understatement to say many rural voters are waiting to see what, if anything, the Trump administration does to fulfill its promises on renewable fuels,” said the letter.

Two of the Iowa farmers Pence met with spoke ambivalently about the presidential election, reported Farm Futures. It quoted Lance Lillibridge as saying, “I’m not sure we can afford four more years [of Trump], but not sure if it goes the other way if we can either.” Tim Bardole, president of the Iowa Soybean Association, said farmers have been hurt by Trump’s trade policy, but he worried that Democrat nominee Joe Biden would impose new regulations.

During the speech, Pence criticized Biden’s running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, for saying in September 2019 that the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines should educate Americans about the impact of meat consumption on the environment. “Just to be very honest with you, I love cheeseburgers from time to time,” she added.

“Well, I’ve got some red meat for you,” Pence said to his audience in Des Moines. “We’re not going to let Joe Biden and Kamala Harris cut America’s meat.”

To watch a C-SPAN video of Pence’s speech, click here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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