Commentary

By Dianne Feinstein

Originally published in the Fresno Bee.

California farmers work tirelessly to feed our country. They deserve better than being used as a bargaining chip in President Trump’s unnecessary trade war.

Driven by his desire to appear tough on China, President Trump announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imports without fully considering the repercussions. American workers are now feeling the negative effects of his rash decision.

In response to the president’s tariffs, China announced retaliatory tariffs on 128 American products, a majority of which are agricultural goods grown here in California. Strawberries, peaches, avocados, almonds, grapes and many other products that proudly bear the “California Grown” label are now facing a 15 percent tariff in China.

President Trump claims he is protecting American jobs. But so far the only concrete results are fewer markets and higher costs for America’s farmers and ranchers.

Throughout California, I’ve spoken with farmers who are facing serious challenges because of the president’s misguided trade policies. California orange growers, who send almost 20 percent of their $133 million in exports to China, have been forced to consider rerouting shipments or find alternative markets.

China purchases almost half of the pistachios exported from California, totaling more than $530 million in exports. Those growers are facing stiff competition from Australian growers whose products won’t be subjected to the same high tariffs.

And they’re not alone. California wine producers, almond and walnut growers, along with thousands of other farmers are also facing similar Chinese tariffs that won’t be levied against their global competitors.

Of the top five agricultural exports to China from California, four of them, totaling more $1.3 billion in exports, will have a tariff. And California is the only state that exports many of the goods the Chinese government is targeting.

During a recent Cabinet meeting, President Trump said farmers will be better off because he’ll “make it up to them” later. The Department of Agriculture says it’s examining ways to help farmers who are negatively impacted by the president’s trade policies.

However, the administration has given no information about what that assistance may look like, who could apply for it or what it would cost the American taxpayer. American farmers want to be able to sell their goods for a fair price, not get paid by a new government program to make up for bad trade policies.

Rather than providing vague promises, the president should start listening to the farmers affected by his trade war. The president should find ways to open new markets for American goods and put our growers on a level playing field with the rest of the world. Instead, President Trump is building economic walls that make it harder for California to compete in the global market.

There is no question that China has engaged in unfair trade practices, and those issues need to be addressed. But there are better ways to deal with China. Unilaterally escalating tariffs is not the solution. Instead, we should be working with our international partners to address trade manipulations in a comprehensive way.

California farmers need to let their representatives in Washington know how President Trump’s “I alone can fix it” approach to trade policy is hurting them. Tell them to start listening to our agriculture communities and end the president’s costly trade war