Monday, February 6, 2023
Feb. 6, 2023

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In Our View: We Need Help, Washington

Our D.C. namesake must govern, lead to protect agricultural interests in state

The Columbian

President Trump’s trade war and the failure of Congress to address a shortage of farm workers do not bode well for Washington agriculture. To avoid devastating consequences, our Washington needs effective governance to come from the other Washington.

This state is the most trade-dependent in the country, and a significant portion of that is farm products. Now, because of Trump’s tariff-laden trade policies, the state Department of Agriculture estimates that nearly $650 million worth of exports are at risk — $480 million to China and $166 million to Mexico.

When the president announced plans to increase tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from China, Mexico and other countries, experts warned that retaliatory tariffs from trading partners would target American workers. Trade wars — like all wars — result in collateral damage, and that damage is being felt by Washington growers. Locally produced crops such as apples, wheat, cherries and hay have been included on tariff hit lists from trading partners.

Last year at this time, according to the Washington Grain Commission, the Northwest had exported wheat worth $51 million to China. Now? “We haven’t sold anything this year,” Scott Yates of the grain commission told the Tri-City Herald.

The impact also is evident for cherry growers. Washington had a strong cherry crop this year while California’s was weak, but farmers have limited ability to take advantage of that because China imposed a 15 percent tariff and then added a 25 percent tariff on imported cherries.

In addition to the immediate effect of Trump’s tariffs, farmers worry about the long-term loss of markets that previously have been welcoming to agriculture from Washington and other states. During a speech last month in Kansas City, Trump urged farmers to “be a little patient” and said they will be “the biggest beneficiaries” of the trade war. He later announced plans for $12 billion in subsidies for U.S. farmers harmed by the trade war, although details of how that will be distributed have not been presented. As Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, said, “Farmers want trade, not aid.”

Aside from the occasional grumbling, Republicans in Congress have been slow to stand against the president’s misguided trade policies. We’ll make it clear for them: Actions that require a $12 billion bailout in exchange for promised future gains — gains that analysts deny will be forthcoming — require action from Congress.

Meanwhile, congressional members also have failed to address the labor shortage that is hampering farmers. Agriculture relies heavily upon seasonal workers, who often are undocumented; with a crackdown on border controls and with deportations increasing under the Obama administration and further increasing in the Trump era, farmers are having difficulty finding workers to pick their crops. While it is essential that immigration laws be enforced, there also is a need to adjust regulations allowing for seasonal workers, lest crops go unpicked.

H.R. 6417, co-sponsored by Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, would attempt to address some of the issues involved. The bill was introduced in July but not acted upon before Congress left for its summer recess, and it has received mixed reactions from farm groups.

Agriculture is one of the largest industries in Washington, producing $10.6 billion worth of products in 2016. Continued success will require strong leadership and foresight from Washington, D.C.