Trump’s Made-for-TV Trade War Has Few Entertained

Trump’s Made-for-TV Trade War Has Few Entertained

In a letter to the president in May, Zippy Duvall, the president of the American Farm Bureau, said farmers faced “near-unprecedented economic uncertainty and hardship” stemming from the escalation of tariffs in China and other key markets. He urged Mr. Trump to make a deal as soon as possible, saying “time is running out for many in agriculture.”

But Mr. Trump’s approach has complicated his ability to get a final deal, including securing the big farm commitments that he showcased last month. American negotiators are now left with the difficult task of translating the massive purchases Mr. Trump requested — larger purchases “than any time in our history, by far” — into the actual text of a trade agreement.

While China needs and wants to buy agricultural goods like soybeans and pork, it has balked on terms that would leave it exposed to accusations that it favors American products over other countries’, as well as agreements that could result in more American tariffs if its purchases do not come through.

Even if American negotiators secure better market access for beef, pork, dairy and genetically modified products, Washington-based analysts who have done the calculations say they have difficulty figuring out how the United States could increase its agricultural exports to China to much more than $30 billion a year, without diverting trade from elsewhere.

Mr. Trump’s tariffs also remain a source of uncertainty, with his administration sending mixed signals about whether any of the existing levies will be removed if a deal is reached.

The president announced the Phase 1 trade deal during a meeting in the Oval Office with Liu He, China’s top trade negotiator. While Mr. Trump canceled an increase in tariffs planned for Oct. 15, he made no mention of rolling back any levies. That has not gone over well with the Chinese, who have since been under pressure domestically for seemingly giving away too much to the United States.

“Without rolling back some of the tariffs, or reducing the uncertainty of not raising additional tariffs, then I would ask what is the additional incentive of implementing this deal on the Chinese part?” He Jianxiong, the former executive director for China at the International Monetary Fund, said at a Nov. 6 event at the Peterson Institute in Washington.

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