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Editorial: ‘Suicidal’ trade notions

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Donald Trump didn’t bother to consult Zippy Duvall of the American Farm Bureau about dusting off his trade-war playbook with China. Trump must not have asked former ambassador to China Terry Branstad, either, about his plan to hike tariffs on Chinese goods if he is re-elected president. Or any number of farm-state politicians who went running away from the idea this week.

Duvall told Politico that Trump didn’t ask him about avoiding a repeat of tanking soybean markets, then dumping $60 billion over two years to buy agribusiness support for his unproductive trade war with China. Several House Republicans from rural districts said they were extremely leery. One called Trump’s ideas “suicidal.”

A lot of politicians are piling on China these days, some for good reason and others just looking to pick a fight in perilous times. Food is not best used as a weapon. Our agricultural trade policy should foster prosperity and cooperation, and not be a source of provocation.

China is our top pork and soy customer. Farmers are not interested in taking a bath in corn and soy markets, and meat exporters do not want any land mines placed in the field of trade. Trump would do well to consult his friends in farming before going off half-cocked. Our trade in agricultural and food products and services is vital to laying a foundation for superpower cooperation.

It makes sense for the United States to protect national security by reshoring  critical industries like computer semi-conductors. We should protect ourselves from Chinese cybercrime. We should support Taiwan and advocate for Hong Kong. But we don’t want to stumble into conflict just for its sake. When the CIA tells you that China is doing this or that with Russia, take it with a grain of salt. Statements of top-secret intellegence are made public for a reason. We are the world’s leading arms dealer, supplying horrible regimes like Saudi Arabia, and we have objects flying over Wuhan, no doubt. Let’s keep things in some perspective.

Staying grounded in a pragmatic food and agriculture trade policy with China is important for U.S. agriculture, for hungry people, and to maintain the peace. It’s important for the Amazon rain forest that the U.S. can be counted on as a reliable provider of ag commodities — if we start another trade war, China will simply order up more acres in Brazil.

The problem is that people don’t think through what their rhetoric suggests. Trade wars lead to shooting wars. Food is not a weapon. Farmers are not fodder. Trump should call Duvall.

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