Trump talks trade, presses for securing border during State of the Union Address

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer
President Donald Trump delivers the State of the Union address at the US Capitol.

President Donald Trump gave little mention to the dire economic conditions currently facing American farmers and ranchers during his State of the Union address on Feb. 5, short of pointing out the elimination of the estate tax and passing a "sweeping farm bill."

Trump did press Republicans and Democrats to "join forces again to confront an urgent national crisis," of protecting "our homeland and secure our very dangerous Southern border." 

Addressing problems his administration has moved to confront "with urgency and historic speed," since he took office, one priority that has been paramount is "reversing decades of calamitous trade policies," Trump claimed.

"We recently imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods and now our treasury is receiving billions and billions of dollars," said Trump. "But I don't blame China for taking advantage of us. I blame our leaders and representatives for allowing this travesty to happen."

Trump said he is working on a new trade deal with China "but it must include real structural change to end unfair trade practices."

Referring to "another historic trade blunder," or NAFTA, Trump touted the new U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA), asking Congress to pass it into law, saying it will "deliver for American workers like they haven't had delivered to for a long time," and expand agriculture. 

Trump also called for passing the United States Reciprocal Trade Act "so that if another country places an unfair tariff on an American product, we can charge them the exact same tariff on the exact same product that they sell to us."

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Trump "provided a unifying, hopeful vision for the nation" in his State of the Union Address. 

"The President’s policies have been beneficial to American agriculture in the short term, but also have laid the foundation for long-term prosperity," said Perdue. "Our trade agreements with other nations are getting stronger, and the strategies the President has employed will lead to new and expanded markets for our products. This was a patriotic speech, reminding Americans of the greatness of this country, with even brighter hopes for the future.”

While the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) applauded Trump's address, the National Farmers Union (NFU) felt he failed to recognize the harsh realities facing American farmers. 

"Farmers and ranchers across the country need reforms to our immigration system, and we echo President Trump’s call for Congress to ratify the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement to preserve and build on the export gains with our North American neighbors," said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. "At the same time, we support bipartisan efforts to rebuild and modernize our nation’s infrastructure, including broadband technology in rural areas.”

However, NFU Senior Vice President for Public Policy and Communications Rob Larew said the reality of the downward trend in the farm economy has only worsened in the last couple of years and Trump's remarks didn't recognize this "harsh reality."

"The reality is that once-stable markets for U.S. farm products are now being lost to our competitors. And the reality is that the current downward pressure on farm prices as a result of lost markets will continue for years to come," said Larew. "To tout progress with China or USMCA as a win is misleading – you can’t dig a ten-foot hole, fill it up with a foot of dirt and call that a win."

Larew called on the President to support American farm families by restoring "our reputation around the world as a reliable trading partner."

"He will reassert American leadership in the international trade arena, rather than straining relationships with our top trading partners," Larew added. "And he will back up his calls for bipartisanship by working with Congress to ensure farm families can succeed with fair and stable markets for their goods.”