Ag a secondary issue for Trump

“Politicians complaining about the media is like a sailor complaining about the sea,” Winston Churchill, former prime minister of Great Britain, was quoted by Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull. He added, “There’s not much point, that’s the media we live with, and we have to get our message across. We thank you all in the media for the kind attention.”

The quote was taken from a recorded interview of Turnbull following his phone visits with President Trump. It reflects a broadening perspective of politicians from democracies around the world, regarding their view of the press and America’s obsessive focus at this time.

Sadly, the real stories are obscured by this incessant focus by our administration on media, amid allegations of their legitimacy as purveyors of truth.

The real stories lack our attention, and it should not be, because they have an incredible impact on our daily lives.

In Turnbull’s news conference regarding his discussions with Mr. Trump, Turnbull highlights one important issue that requires our focus: global trade. Protectionism, he said, is not the ladder to get you out of the low growth trap, it is the shovel to dig it deeper, and deeper and deeper.

“Protectionism leads to poverty, and we’ve seen that film before,” he added. “We saw in the time, nearly 90-odd years ago in the great depression…it only made it worse.”

Having invested more than 15 years in agricultural policy creation and advocacy, I am no stranger to this topic. I lived through it, during America’s protectionist behavior in the 1970s following the Russian grain embargo, and later with President Jimmy Carter’s embargo on Iran. Agricul­ture suffered extensive financial losses, losing more than 20 percent of global market share.

At the time, farmers and grass-roots based commodity groups were determined to never let that happen again. And yet, here we are, having officially withdrawn from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement that would have opened markets previously denied to us, thanks to unacceptably high tariff rates of countries on the Pacific Rim.

The immediate impact is the potential loss of tariff-free trade amounting to an additional $4.4 billion to agriculture. The lasting impact may be far greater, however.

Having withdrawn from TPP, China is positioned with unilateral agreements with these same countries and is ready to make Ameri­can commodities non-competitive by mandating high tariffs on them.

Plus, any subsequent TPP agreement may still be signed by the other members of the agreement—minus our participation—also effectively making American commodities non-competitive.

Unless Mr. Trump can move incredibly fast and consummate promised unilateral trade agreements that protects American interests—and at the moment, it looks doubtful he can—American agriculture and American consumers will pay the ultimate price.

Why?

One: Congress still has not confirmed the nominee for Secretary of Agricul­ture.

Two: Congress still has not confirmed Mr. Trump’s nominee for U.S. Trade Representative that would be responsible for initiating any trade negotiations, let alone consummating them via congressional and presidential approval.

Three: It takes anywhere from three to 10 years to get agreements from concepts to hard-core contracts that can be ratified and signed. Withdrawing from a hard-fought agreement like the nearly ratified TPP, before fashioning a new one, reflects a complete lack of preparation and due diligence.

Time is of the essence, and to date, as I write this, no indication of movement on these is forthcoming.

Why? Good question. What has Mr. Trump focused on lately? We have our answer by looking at the tweets and bickering taking place over media’s legitimacy and over who won the election.

Only recently has the administration sent the secretary of defense to Europe to placate their concerns over Mr. Trump’s lack of commitment to NATO allies. In essence, agriculture remains a low priority right now.

In rural America, a real economic depression is an agricultural depression. Profitability on the farm will take a serious hit without foreign trade. In the wheat industry alone, in Kansas, we export 50 percent of all production. In the Pacific Northwest, they export between 85 and 95 percent of domestic production. Without it, we would have to eliminate even more farms and acres devoted to wheat production, just to break even.

How do we fix this? First, make it known that this is serious business. Congres­sional members, their staff and even Mr. Trump must hear from you. “Protect our markets, now! Before trashing existing agreements, make sure you have better ones in place, ready to go.”

Second, hope and pray they get the message. From here, there is little we can do, until the next presidential election in four years.