There was a fascinating piece in Politico yesterday on the country's agricultural sector, which has struggled for a while, but which saw an exciting new opportunity take shape last year. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (or TPP) was seen as "a lifeline," offering Rural America a chance to reach millions of new, international customers.
Donald Trump, a fierce opponent of the trade pact for reasons he's never been able to explain in any detail, was quick to close that window. Now America's rural exporters are watching other countries reach deals on their own, leaving the United States on the sidelines. China, in particular, may not have been a part of the proposed TPP, but it stands to benefit greatly: as the Politico piece explained, China "smells blood in the water," and is "moving quickly to assert itself, rather than the United States, as the region's trade arbiter."
When the Republican president killed the TPP soon after taking office, he assured Americans he'd replace it with a "beautiful" alternative. Nearly eight months later, the Trump administration still has no meaningful trade policy or strategy.
As a matter of domestic politics, there is an unfortunate irony to this: many of the areas that stand to suffer the most as a result of Trump's approach also backed Trump -- usually by large margins -- in last year's election. The Politico piece highlighted some folks in Rural America who hoped the Republican president would adopt a more constructive posture.
[Stu Swanson, who farms corn, soybeans and pork] acknowledged his own household is split over its support for Trump.... Swanson was less sure where Trump drew the line between campaign-trail bluster and real action. There was, he thought, far too much at stake for his rural base to make any rash decisions. Then, three days after he was sworn in, Trump made good on a promise to drop U.S. support for TPP.
"I was disappointed Trump kind of broadly wiped out TPP before there was even a discussion," Swanson said.
Jerry Maier, a Wright County corn and soybean farmer who supported Trump, said he feels the same way.
"If you're at the table and nothing happens, that's one thing. But if you aren't even at that table, that's frustrating," he said.
If you think this is reminiscent of the health care debate, we're on the same page.