Manitoba Agriculture Minister Ralph Eichler is optimistic President Donald Trump will see the value of agricultural trade, despite his protectionist rhetoric.
“I think that Trump is a very educated man in his own way,” Eichler told reporters Jan. 17 at Ag Days. “Maybe he has to listen a little bit more than he talks… that is why we have two ears and one mouth. So let’s make sure we listen and we hope president-elect Trump listens. We have a feeling there are some strong people out there who are well connected with the president-elect and hopefully he will listen to them and give them the ear we need to have in order to make sure those relationships continue.”
President Trump received a lot of votes in farming states and many American farm groups support the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a deal President Trump said during the election campaign he would not ratify. He has also promised to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement if he can’t get a better deal for the U.S.
Some trade experts fear President Trump will spark an international trade war, in turn potentially causing a worldwide recession.
“I’m not overly concerned at this point,” Eichler said. “We will be able to tell a bit more in a couple of weeks when we see who the new secretary of agriculture will be in the Trump administration.”
Trump has since nominated 70-year-old former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue, who has a record of supporting agricultural trade. The Republican-led Senate is expected to confirm the nomination.
A veterinarian, Perdue, served two terms as governor and has run trucking and agricultural companies in Georgia since leaving office in 2011, the Ag Insider reported.
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau and a Georgia farmer, praised Perdue as a strong voice for agriculture, adding as governor he “was always very good in promoting agricultural products” and encouraged exports.
Ron Moore, president of the American Soybean Association (ASA), said he thought Perdue would support agriculture exports, Reuters reported.
“I think he will be very much in favour of trade,” Moore said in a telephone interview with Reuters. The ASA, with 15 other farm groups, this month urged the incoming administration to “protect and enhance” agricultural trade and its impact on the rural economy.
Trade, a signature issue during the campaign in which Trump accused China of unfair practices, is critical for the farm economy. U.S. farm and food exports to China were more than $20.2 billion in 2015.
Prices for soybeans rose 16 per cent during 2016 on strong demand from China, which buys nearly 30 per cent of the U.S. crop. Soybean exports helped boost U.S. gross domestic product in the third quarter.
Some farmers are concerned that Trump’s criticism of China could lead to deteriorating trade relations and put exports at risk.
An influential Chinese state-run newspaper warned that U.S. agricultural imports and U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing could be targets for retaliation in any trade war triggered by Trump.
Agricultural trade is critical to the economies of Canada and the U.S., Eichler said.
“We can never forget that,” he said. “One in eight jobs in Manitoba is because of agriculture. You take exports out of there and we put more value added in, we all win. We cannot take our eye off that ball.”
Many American legislators recognize the importance of trade, which was discussed earlier this month at the State Ag and Rural Leaders group meeting in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Eichler attended and is now the group’s secretary, as did Canada’s Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay.
“We talked a lot about trade,” Eichler said. “That is one of the things that is the most important to us. We are their (U.S.) largest (agricultural) trading partner and they are ours so we want to keep that dialogue open. That message was loud and clear to the senators and of course to the state legislators as well. We know that trade is important.
“We have a great relationship, not only now but we hope into the future. It is all about having an open conversation, an open dialogue, in order to make sure we continue on those relationships.”