Pennsylvania farmers back campaign to repeal damaging tariffs

President Donald Trump promised a $12 billion bailout for farmers in distress in the wake of his trade renegotiations with the European Union and other international trade partners.   File photo

A campaign designed to focus the president’s attention on the potential negative outcomes of tariffs on international agricultural markets has enlisted the support of farmers in several states, including Pennsylvania.

Farmers for Free Trade is a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit formed to spread the message that free trade unencumbered by tariffs provides the best competitive environment in which American farmers and ranchers can flourish. So far, the group has launched a website, Twitter account and some national TV ads presenting the “Voice of the Farmer,” with real-life examples of the damage tariffs can cause.

“This new, multi-million dollar campaign will highlight the widespread economic pain the trade war causes for middle America, particularly American farmers, manufacturers, workers and consumers,” explains the organization’s press release.

As Andrew O’Reilly of Fox News reported on July 24, President Donald Trump promised a $12 billion bailout for farmers in distress in the wake of his trade renegotiations with the European Union and other international trade partners. The Fox News report quoted Trump as saying: “Farmers will be the biggest beneficiaries. We’re going to do something that has never been done.”

But despite his assurances, critics are nervous about the impact on America’s heartland. One of them is Scott Henry, a partner in LongView Farms, a fourth-generation corn and soybean producer in Des Moines, Iowa.

“As our name implies, we take the ‘long view’ when it comes to the business of agriculture,” Henry said. “Policy interference and restricted market access are two surefire ways to hamper innovation and long-term growth.”

Henry added that he lent his voice to the Tariffs Hurt the Heartland campaign to help the president realize how the trade negotiations are hurting real people.

“We clearly need a new way to get through to the president, so he hears our message loud and clear: tariffs hurt us,” Henry said. “Clear the path for trade of homegrown agricultural products, and we’ll succeed.”

Mark O’Neill, a spokesman for Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, said Pennsylvania farmers are backing the campaign’s efforts to raise awareness in Washington.

“Pennsylvania farmers, and farmers across the U.S., support free trade agreements because they open foreign markets to our food products,” he said. “About 20 percent of the food produced in the U.S. is exported to other nations, resulting in a $21 billion trade surplus.”

O’Neill said the tariffs have pressured the already-tight profit margins of farmers, who are in the midst of a four-year slump of declining revenue. “Grain farmers (soybeans, corn, etc.), dairy farmers and pork and beef producers are especially vulnerable,” he said.

Ironically, many of the heartland voters who backed President Trump’s 2016 win are bearing the brunt of his protectionist policies. As The Washington Post reported: “American farmers and Walmart shoppers are likely to feel pain in this fight, and a lot of them voted for Trump.”

O’Neill said it was time to change policies.

“Pennsylvania Farm Bureau (and the American Farm Bureau Federation) is calling on the Trump Administration and other foreign leaders to immediately rescind the tariffs and retaliatory tariffs and return to negotiating agreements to benefit all the countries involved,” O’Neill said.

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