Trump is reminded by NAFTA who elected him

BY ART CULLEN

President Trump got the word on ethanol and the North American Free Trade Agreement last week. Agriculture Bill Northey was among a dozen people to visit with the great negotiator on Tuesday, and Northey heard what he wanted to hear: that Trump likes ethanol just fine. We do not know what that means — will refiners have to blend more, will oxygenate requirements to combat air pollution in urban centers survive, minor questions like that which will determine how the market views ethanol. But Trump likes ethanol. You can bank on that. And he will go easy on all that web of regulations that keeps Iowa farmers from planting corn right up to the Raccon River. You know what they are.

Northey had a prize to lug home. He got to meet the new agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue of Georgia, who no doubt understands peanuts and cotton better than feed grains and ethanol. Perdue is assembling a rural task force like so many before it that pretend to come up with a rural policy. What they actually will come up with, after much bluster and worry, will be a new farm bill that originates in the House and will be mediated in the Senate. It will not be a rural policy as such but legislation that meets the demands of all the special interests who help write a farm bill: the peanut growers, the milkers, the distillers and the corn growers, all competing for their interest to be on top.

Northey suggested that Trump intimated that he will go easy on immigrants. Again, we are not sure how that plays out since deportations in Minnesota are up 80% this year. Iowa, and Storm Lake, cannot be far behind. This is of concern among the big agribusiness players who have been telling Perdue and Trump of their concerns. People like the CEO of Cargill, who warned that terminating NAFTA could well have unintended consequences in the rural areas that supported his campaign.

Trump might have still been digesting the Cargill message, issued a couple months ago, just a day after Northey decamped Washington for Des Moines.

On Wednesday the White House indicated that it was preparing to “terminate” NAFTA. Trump then received phone calls from the leaders of Mexico and Canada who expressed their dismay, since those vague warnings were messing with the value of the peso and tamping business investment north of the border. And then his own political advisors showed him an electoral map, according to The Wall Steet Journal. They pointed out how terminating NAFTA would hurt auto makers in Michigan, chicken pluckers in Arkansas, corn growers in Iowa and cowboys in Wyoming. All Trump Territory.

Mexico and Canada are our two biggest ag export markets. Then China. We’re not sure if Trump touched on China, and how it wants US pork and genetic technology from Dow DuPont and Monsanto.

The players and the political guys pointed all this out to Trump after he indicated he would terminate NAFTA.

By Thursday Trump had changed his tune. He would simply like to “renegotiate” NAFTA. If that doesn’t work, by gum we will terminate. Except … Remember that guy from Cargill? That guy from Willmington, Del., representing Dow DuPont Pioneer. That guy from the National Cattlemen’s Association. And the others. Well, it will be a termination we can all love.

At the end of the week it sounded as if the corn will be planted where it will be, that ethanol will flow from it, that the byproducts will be fed to chickens and steers and swine to be shipped to Toronto and Guadalajara by Tyson Fresh Meats, and that our friends from Latin America will continue to wield their knives on the kill floor without interruption by the immigration SWAT teams that we saw here in 1996.

That’s a lot of work in just one week.

See how much got done?

Rural America will slog along as it has. Young people will graduate from high school in Holstein this spring and move away for lack of a future at home, if they can afford the college tuition. They will be replaced by young, brown people in Storm Lake with dreams of their own. Much like what has been going on in Northwest Iowa for the past 30 years.