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Opinion: America alone

Softly falling snow makes it evident that winter’s early end was just a rumour. The season is back and will remain awhile, predicts the National Weather Service.

Frozen, also, are the immigration standoff, NAFTA talks, infrastructure plans, the dicamba debate…

Congress is moving as slow as molasses, too, as seen in the recent budget shutdown.

Congress’s failure to do its budget work is neither new nor news. In the 40 years since it “reformed” its own appropriation process, Congress has passed full-year federal budgets just four times.

Despite that bipartisan record of failure, the House Ag Committee ambitiously hopes it can pass its 2018 Farm Bill by spring. That’s more a dream than a hope because with no federal budget to guide spending, congressional committees can’t really know what to include or exclude.

The Senate Ag Committee has an even steeper climb. Nine of its 21 members are running for re-election and, whoa, eight are Democrats from states President Trump won (some bigly) in 2016. Any guess on how focused these folks will be?

If President Trump’s state of the union address is any indication, three other top items on every rural legislator’s to-do list — trade, infrastructure, and the budget deficit — are slipping off the White House radar screen. Infrastructure merited the longest mention in the speech, but only as some hazy, US$1.5-trillion private-public partnership no one in Congress sees as serious.

Serious — as in, “Are you serious?” — seems to be the operative word on trade, too.

While in Europe recently the president again complained about how the U.S. is global trade’s biggest patsy. This time Europe got the troubling Trump Trade Tirade: “I’ve had a lot of problems with the European Union, and it may morph into something very big from that standpoint, from a trade standpoint.”

A few days later, after Round Six of the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) talks concluded in Montreal, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer again confronted Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, over what he said was America’s “US$87-billion trade deficit,” with its northern neighbour. Freeland, standing next to Lighthizer in the press conference where he made the charge, replied that his facts were not only wrong, but that they were dead wrong.

“Freeland came armed with her own numbers to rebut his claim,” reported CBC News Jan. 29, “citing figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis in the Department of Commerce, which she said found Canada had an US$8-billion deficit in overall trade with the U.S.”

Note “Freeland came armed with her own numbers,” — U.S. based, no less — “to rebut his claim.” She knew Lighthizer would stretch the facts to make some rubbery point.

Lighthizer’s approach, however, is how this administration rolls. Left unchallenged, it says and does things that are wrong in fact and dumb in effect.

For example, if you add up the White House’s swift departure from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership last year, its going-nowhere NAFTA negotiations this year, and now its new “problems” with EU trade practices, Trump’s America First trade strategy looks more like America Alone.

That approach is both dumb for the nation and deadly for America’s farmers and ranchers. Congress is writing a multi-year Farm Bill completely tied to trade.

But with whom?

The Farm and Food File is published weekly through the U.S. and Canada.

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