Forget Party Labels; President’s Trade Policies Are Politics All Mixed Up

Eagle Butte coal mine in Gillette, in Wyoming's Powder River Basin.
Eagle Butte coal mine in Gillette, in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.

The growing trade war with China is politics that’s all mixed up. Forget left or right, red or blue, Democrat versus Republican. This issue divides many Republicans from President Donald J. Trump. While many Democrats think this battle overdue. And some of the president’s most strident supporters from coal companies to farmers are not happy with his policy choices.

But make no mistake: The outcome (when it finally occurs) is a dollar-and-cents issue that will impact the daily lives of Native people, tribal governments, and businesses. Wall Street’s jitters are a good indication of that. The market has dropped by nine percent since January, shrinking retirement accounts, tribal investments, and personal wealth.

The story so far. In January, the White House said it would levy a tariff, or a tax, on the importation of solar panels from other countries. Then, a month ago, the White House announced a 25 percent tax on steel and 10 percent tax on aluminum. But the White House scaled back the countries involved, focusing mostly on China.

See related article: What Is A Tariff? And How Does A Campaign Against China By Trump Affect Indian Country?

China responded with trade sanctions on some $20 billion worth of meat, wine, fruit, nuts. Then the U.S. responded again. And China countered. So the list of taxed imported items is growing. The actual tariffs won’t start for a couple of months and the administration is thinking is there will be a deal before then.

Agriculture is already losing in this trade war. This week the market dropped for soybeans, corn, and wheat because if China buys less, there will be more of those same products available for sale and prices will drop. Supply and demand. So those same market forces will make products like Spam cheaper, too.

“Soy growers are frustrated, but not surprised this week, as a trade war looms with U.S. soy’s top customer,” the American Soybean Association said on its website. “The Chinese Commerce Department announced plans to impose a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans in retaliation for the U.S. proposed $60 billion in tariffs against Chinese goods. Soybean futures were already down nearly 40 cents a bushel the morning after this announcement.” The association has a Twitter campaign, #RethinkTheTariffs to stir public support.

The U.S. government and #farmers have partnered for decades and spent millions of dollars to establish foreign markets for U.S. #soybeans. These tariffs put years of work to expand markets, and our livelihoods, in jeopardy. @POTUS #RethinkTheTariffs #SupportSoybeans

— American Soybean (@ASA_Soybeans) March 23, 2018

Other farm groups make a similar case. The Republican Party has long argued for free trade, benefitting farm states by opening new markets around the world. This is where the politics get mixed up. Many Republicans in Congress are critical of the administration’s trade policy for this very reason. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said in The Louisville Courier Journal that Kentucky is “a great exporter” and that he is “nervous about getting into trade wars.”

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, wrote last month, “In general, free trade contributes to our national prosperity as well. However, having open markets is not an invitation for others to take advantage of us.” Cole, Chickasaw, called…

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