Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) is bringing a farmer from Trump country to the State of the Union address to send the president a clear message: Farmers aren’t happy with Trump’s trade agenda.
“This administration’s trade policies have been a gut punch to Illinois farmers,” Bustos said in a statement Monday, announcing Tom Mueller, a family farmer from Edgington, Illinois, as her guest for Tuesday’s address. Bustos represents a northern Illinois district that Trump narrowly won in 2016. She’s been seen as Democrats’ Trump voter whisperer.
Farmers have been among those hit hardest in Trump’s trade wars, as foreign countries have levied tens of billions of dollars in retaliatory tariffs largely on the American agricultural industry. The Trump administration’s taxes on imported steel, aluminum, and electronics have resulted in taxes on American soybeans, dairy, pork, apples, and potatoes, as well as other US products.
Mueller, Bustos’s State of the Union guest, is a farmer of corn, soybeans, hay, and beef cattle farmer, and says he’s “afraid the president’s trade war has lost markets for us long term.”
The US has levied tariffs on many US trade allies, including Canada, Mexico, and the European Union, over the past year. While the administration has now negotiated a modified NAFTA with Canada and Mexico (the United-States-Mexico-Canada Agreement), trade conflicts are only escalating with China. Last year, the US instituted a 10 percent tariff on Chinese goods as punishment for unfair trade practices — tariffs that are expected to increase to 25 percent by March 1, unless the two countries miraculously strike a deal.
So Bustos is sending a clear message that farmers, even though a majority of them are Trump supporters, are scared about what Trump’s trade agenda means for them.
Trump’s trade agenda has hit farmers the hardest
The impact of tariffs on US agriculture is no joke. Prices for agricultural products like soybeans dropped to a 10-year low last summer, making farmers across various markets increasingly nervous about how their business will fare if the trade war continues.
Agriculture has incredibly low barriers to trade, making the industry an easy target for retaliatory tariffs. And there’s also a political incentive: Many farmers are Republicans and Trump supporters.
Agriculture is “one of the few areas that the US has a surplus; it makes sense they would target that,” Chad Hart, an economist and crops market analyst at Iowa State University, told Vox in July 2018. “It makes sense politically, because you are looking at Republican leadership — and farmers do tend to vote more Republican.”
The United States has about $140 billion of agricultural exports a year. Canada and Mexico are major trade partners, together importing about $39 billion. China, Japan, and South Korea import around $39 billion, and Europe makes up around a $12 billion share of agricultural imports. But tensions are high across the board.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has tried to assure farmers they will be protected from any trade wars — and Congress’s massive agricultural subsidy package, commonly known as the farm bill, passed last year and had aid packages for those hit by tariffs. But farmers don’t have a clear idea what the president’s end game is, and Trump hasn’t treaded lightly with his rhetoric.
So while they generally can get behind Trump’s call to equalize the playing field, there is an understanding that farms could get seriously hurt.