WASHINGTON – Minnesota wheat and soybean farmer Tim Dufault summed up his reaction to the Trump administration’s trade war with China.
“We are now nearly two years into a trade war that we were told would be good and easy to win,” Dufault told the House Ways and Means Committee hearing Wednesday. “Time and again, we have been told to hold out for a deal that would make all the pain worth it. And while you would be hard-pressed to find a farmer who would disagree with the fact that China has been a bad actor, farmers have shouldered the pain for a strategy that has seen only one minor tariff reduction and several tariff escalations.”
Dufault, who represented the group Farmers for Free Trade as well as himself, was among several speakers assessing the effect of the trade war and the first phase of a new trade agreement that calls for China to buy $80 billion more in U.S. agricultural products over two years.
“The purchases, which have not yet materialized, are a promise while the tariffs are real,” Dufault said, stressing the rising number of farm bankruptcies in Minnesota and several other states. “The ag economy doesn’t live on promises. Until China buys, we are not buying the promise.”
The administration’s reliance on tariffs to strike trade deals proved a focus of the hearing.
Republicans on the committee praised the White House for the first phase of a deal with China, saying it made the Asian country stop unfair trade practices, including forcing U.S. companies to share technology in order to do business in China and dumping steel and other products in America. Republicans stressed the China trade deal is a work in progress.
Democrats criticized an absence of protection of human rights, and claimed the trade war and deal did not rein in Chinese state business subsidies or currency manipulation and has failed to increase U.S. jobs.
Dufault said in an interview after the hearing that he was describing his experience on his family farm in Crookston, not advocating for either side in the political debate.
He has, however, given up hope of a fast resolution to problems he and thousands of others U.S. farmers face from bad weather, sagging commodity prices and retaliatory tariffs.
Despite the president’s promise the trade war would be won quickly and easily, Dufault, 60, considered retirement last spring as Chinese tariffs on U.S. soybeans gutted his sales with no resolution in sight.
The time frame some lawmakers cited Wednesday — a yearslong game — showed a fundamental misunderstanding of family farming, he said.
“On a family farm, if you have two bad years in row, you’re done,” Dufault explained. “One congressman from Texas talked about the trade deal making things better in the long term for the next generation of farmers. If I lose my farm, I won’t be able to hand it down to my children.”
Asked by a committee member about the $28 billion in subsidies that the Trump administration has offered to farmers to make up for sales lost to tariffs, Dufault replied, “Our mantra is trade, not aid.”
In his testimony, he explained why. “While we are being paid not to sell to one of the fastest-growing markets in the world, our competitors are filling the void,” he said. “Our loss is Canada, Brazil, Russia and Australia’s gain. For example, in the past two years, Canada’s wheat exports to China have increased 400% while ours have fallen.”
Now, Dufault and others like him wait to see if China will actually buy the U.S. agricultural products that it committed to as part of the first phase of the trade deal.
China’s largest annual purchase of American agricultural products is $29 billion, Dufault said. Now, the Chinese are supposed to buy $40 billion a year for two years.
Dufault said he can’t increase his production based on hope.