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Louisiana Farmers Caught In The Crosshairs Of Trade Disputes

Casey Guernsey
August 9, 2018
The Advocate

From jambalaya to gumbo and shrimp creole, the Bayou State is known around the world for its unique and finger-licking cuisine. But what most people may not think about when they’re digging in for dinner is that these Cajun delicacies are supported by Louisiana’s rich and diverse agriculture industry.

Each year, Louisiana’s agricultural producers export more than $20 billion dollars’ worth of products to our trading partners and support more than half a million jobs. Unfortunately, farmers and families in Louisiana — and across the country — are facing a mountain of uncertainty about their futures. Farm income is down more than 50 percent over the past five years, and the actions coming out of Washington are only exacerbating these problems.

Recent trade disputes have resulted in retaliatory tariffs that are cutting off farmers’ ability to export their homegrown goods to critical markets around the globe. These disputes threaten to upend the agricultural economy that supports 43 million American jobs, and people need to be aware of exactly how much is at stake as the United States continues escalating its trade disputes while also negotiating its trade agreements.

Like clockwork, we’ve seen the same events play out time and again over the past several months. The United States slaps tariffs on our trading partners’ exports and they retaliate, and farmers usually find themselves caught in the crosshairs.

Recently, the United States announced it was considering escalating a trade dispute with China by imposing additional tariffs on $200 billion on their exports. Twenty-four hours later, China announced it would hit back with $60 billion of tariffs targeting U.S. exports.

China is Louisiana’s top trading partner, so whether you are a soybean farmer on the banks of the Mississippi River, a beef producer near the Texas border or a family in downtown New Orleans going to the grocery store, losing access to that critical market hurts everyone.

Looking at the local headlines, it is clear this trend isn’t unique to Louisiana. America’s tumultuous trade environment is impacting farmers and families in every corner of the country who are already struggling to keep their heads above water. In my home state of Missouri — where my family and I run a ranch that raises bulls — many of us are standing on pins and needles wondering whether tomorrow will bring a new round of retaliatory tariffs that make it even more difficult to keep our operations going.

I was hopeful recently that these trade disputes were coming to an end when President Donald Trump met with European Union President Jean-Claude Juncker and announced they were working toward a bilateral agreement that would eliminate billions of dollars’ worth of tariffs.

Yet, the additional tariff announcement against China that followed once again showed that Washington seems willing to drag along the agricultural industry into trade disputes regardless of how much they devastate America’s rural families.

With many family-run operations like mine already struggling to get by, American farmers and families need the certainty of free trade agreements that let them export their homegrown goods around the world. The vast majority of U.S. exporters are not large corporations, but family farmers like me. And we are feeling the pinch each day this drags on.

As a seventh-generation farmer, I know from experience that there is almost nothing you can be certain of in this business. But one thing we should be able to know each and every year is that we will be able to sell our homegrown goods to customers around the globe.

Leaders in Washington have made clear their commitment to stand up for farmers. To make good on that promise, they must begin to change course on trade and move forward with mutually beneficial agreements that guarantee producers in every corner of the country that they will be able to access the 95 percent of consumers who live outside of the United States.

Casey Guernsey is a Harrison County, Missouri farmer and spokesperson for “Retaliation Hurts Rural Families,” which has been questioning recent trade tariffs imposed by the United States. He is speaking this week at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s 45th annual meeting in New Orleans.

To access the op-ed, click here.