The sheer folly of President Donald Trump’s now-infamous quip that “trade wars are easy to win” has been laid bare.
Trade wars produce only losers – and Nebraska now stands to be among the starkest of them.
Following the president’s insistence on levying tariffs against China, the world’s most populous nation proposed a second round of retaliatory tariffs Wednesday. The new list includes corn, beef and soybeans – some of Nebraska's top exports – joining pork from the original proclamation.
For the good of this state, this madness must stop. Americans need adults in the room who recognize the positive effects of trade on our economy mustn’t be superseded by scoring political points.
Tariffs would bring utter disaster to Nebraska’s already struggling agricultural economy. China is the state’s single largest ag trading partner, with $1.4 billion in annual commodities sales representing nearly a quarter of all 2016 farm exports.
China’s choice of those three products targets the Midwest – a core Trump constituency – with almost surgical precision. Nebraska leads the nation in beef exports and ranks third and fifth in corn and soybeans, respectively, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
Other industries, too, would suffer as a result of these tariffs, but none in this state would be harmed as agriculture, which supports one in four jobs.
Nebraska’s Republican congressional delegation and Trump himself, among others, have expressed justified concerns about China’s attempts to skirt intellectual property laws. On that topic, the U.S. must be stern with China – but roping trade into this discussion wreaks unnecessary collateral damage.
Tariffs, again, are the worst conceivable means of achieving Trump’s desired end.
On imports, they’re taxes ultimately paid by consumers. For exports, producers struggle with vital market access overseas. Both are worse off when political pressures produce protectionism.
The gravity of China’s announcement has also overshadowed the juvenile debacle Trump ignited regarding the North American Free Trade Agreement, another boon for Nebraska. He nonsensically threatened to exit the deal over misplaced blame he heaped on Mexico for Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals – though those aren’t related in the slightest.
What’s most disheartening about these debacles is that they so closely follow a successful trade negotiation by the Trump administration. The KORUS agreement between South Korea and the U.S. was recently approved after a few points of contention were ironed out by both nations.
That outcome represents the requisite mature, measured approach to improving mutually beneficial trade deals, rather than threatening to nuke them over perceived slights.
A hard line on China’s intellectual property standards is defensible. Stoking the flames for a trade war, particularly given the economic disaster hanging over Nebraska, is downright reckless.