By Terry Wanzek: Jamestown, North Dakota
Americans who celebrate the Fourth of July by reading the Declaration of Independence will find in its text a strangely contemporary line.
Back in 1776, as the Founding Fathers listed their reasons for the original Brexit, they mentioned a topic that feels ripped from today’s headlines. The king, they complained, is “cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world.”
Is President Trump guilty of the same thing, as we spar with China and threaten to quit NAFTA?
I was beginning to have these worries—but a recent meeting at the White House two weeks ago has me contemplating otherwise.
I’m a North Dakota farmer whose livelihood depends on exports. Just this year, we completed a major infrastructure investment on our farm to improve our ability to sell pinto beans to Mexico. Large portions of our other crops, mainly corn, spring wheat and soybeans, are also bound for foreign customers.
The bottom line is that we can’t afford a trade war.
So when my congressman, Kevin Cramer, invited me to join him at the White House for a conversation about trade, I jumped at the chance. On the morning of June 15, a handful of North Dakota farmers met with Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Stephen Censky. We gathered in the Roosevelt Room, which is more or less across the hall from the Oval Office.
We were all supporters of the president—but also concerned about the administration’s trade agenda. I commented that if the price of commodities grown on our farm dropped by just a dime, our family farm stood to lose $100,000.
Secretary Ross and Deputy Secretary Censky listened to us and acknowledged our anxieties. Then they made the case for what they’re doing.
Many of our trade ties were forged right after World War II, they said. At that time, when we were rebuilding Europe through the Marshall Plan and developing new relationships with Japan and the rest of Asia, it made sense to treat trade as a form of economic aid.
Today, however, we live in a new world—and now we must insist on a different arrangement. Although we import massive quantities of goods from China, for example, it still imposes a tariff of 13 percent on U.S. soybeans. Farmers in Brazil, by contrast, face no Chinese tariffs on their soybeans. There is also concern with the theft of our intellectual property and technology.
The solution is to seek a new trade agreement—and as with any negotiation, this one has turned contentious. But that doesn’t mean we should back down. It means that we ought to push through, demanding fair treatment.
We may have to suffer through a period of short-term pain, in the form of an old-fashioned trade dispute. The goal, however, is long-term gain that makes up for the present discomfort.
It’s an investment. When my wife and I were newlyweds, just getting established as farmers, we took a risk. She had built up a modest savings account, but I convinced her to deplete it so that we could make a down payment to buy farmland. The short-term financial pain wasn’t easy, but the long-term financial gain made it worthwhile.
President Trump wants to get better long-term trade deals for all Americans, farmers included. Yet he doesn’t operate like other presidents. His boldness is unconventional. Sometimes it’s even a little scary.
We’ve seen it pay off, though. Less than a year ago, he was mocking North Korea’s Kim Jong-un as “Rocket Man” and boasting on Twitter that America’s nuclear button is “much bigger” and “more powerful.” Then, remarkably, he brought Kim to the bargaining table.
Anything can happen next. Perhaps the disarmament talks with North Korea will falter. Maybe our trade skirmishes with China and the rest of the world will turn into full-blown trade wars with dire economic consequences.
Then again, I’ve learned not to bet against Trump—as so many pundits did in 2016. People tend to underestimate him and his desire to win for America. His strategy may not be obvious, even to allies, but he’s working toward a goal that we all should embrace.
When the Founding Fathers put their names on the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin reportedly joked that they’d all have to hang together or they’d all hang separately.
As we honor America’s 242nd birthday—as well as Franklin’s gallows humor—let’s remember that this is a time to hang together with our deal-making president.
Terry Wanzek grows wheat, corn, soybean and pinto beans on a family farm in North Dakota. He serves as a ND State Senator and volunteers as a board member for the Global Farmer Network (www.globalfarmernetwork.org) where this column originates.