Now that South Korea, Japan, EU non-hormone treated cattle, Canada, Mexico, and China Phase One are in the bag, what next, Mr. Trump?
President Donald Trump and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer are now focusing their attention on negotiations with the EU, UK, and India. And Trump has said he expects to meet one-on-one with China’s President Xi. China expert and advisor to the administration Michael Pillsbury of the Hudson Institute has said he thinks such a meeting would be a great kickoff to negotiating Phase Two.
Phase Two will be a tough nut to crack, as it should deal with China’s economic model of selecting certain businesses and industries for special government attention, rule, and financing advantages plus subsidies. No way will that be easy.
Yet China very much wants the rest of the $350 billion in tariffs removed from its exports to the U.S. In fact, it has said to expect nothing more until all the rest of the tariffs are removed. Thankfully, Trump and Lighthizer have kept most of the tariffs on China as leverage, having mostly given up a new pile that were scheduled for Dec. 10, 2019.
China is not negotiating because of a love of America or Trump. It seems sometimes as the general media, even business media as well as American businesses affected by the tariffs, forget that the only reason China is at the table is because the administration forced enough pain on it to be there.
Most of the critters cattlemen deal with aren’t in the squeeze chute because they like it. They are there because they’ve been forced to. The same dynamic holds true for ranchers and trade. It’s very interesting that, during these momentous couple years of trade negotiations, it is America’s farmers and ranchers who have had the long view of the trade wars. “There is no long-term gain without short-term pain,” has been their attitude.
Frankly, I find that more pragmatic and admirable than the attitudes of some businesses focused only on the next couple of quarters, or politicians or diplomats expecting other countries to come to us through persuasions from lawyer-types. But it is another example of those involved in agriculture being the ones with vision and realistic approaches, as opposed to those activists of one sort or another who accuse us of being short-sighted, with no vision of the future and a focus only on short-term gain and the almighty dollar.
Speaking of activists, I grew up in the Midwest, where colleges with agricultural leadership credentials were schools like Ohio State, Penn State, and Cornell. So I was more than a little shocked the other day too when a story about a Cornell nutrition expert advocating cutting back on meat consumption for health and planetary survival reasons arrived on my phone. Nothing at Ohio State foretold that happening in my lifetime.
Katherine Baker, with Cornell University, is a senior correspondent for a website called Planet Forward (planetforward.org). She starts out in a 2018 post, saying: “It’s no secret meat isn’t the most eco-friendly food to pile on your plate.”
Despite being a Ph.D. student, graduate research and teaching assistant at Cornell, it seems Baker only goes so far in her research as it furthers her agenda. By the way, Cornell is a land-grant university.
“Globally, the meat industry emits an estimated 18 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions and is considered a leading contributor to deforestation, biodiversity loss and water pollution,” she said. “Additionally animal agriculture… ushers overuse of hormones and antibiotics, which leach into our water and food systems.”
Somehow, Baker missed the retraction of those figures and missed the holes in the argument retracted by the authors of Livestock’s Long Shadow, the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report she is quoting.
Note, she didn’t credit the UN report but just presented it as “no secret,” the infamous “everybody knows” kind of assumption that our industry must fight every day. Those erroneous assumptions are the very ones that Beyond Meat and Impossible Burgers used to justify their mission and raise millions from investors to fund their “meat alternatives.” What ever happened to “due diligence?”
Not only did Frank Mitloehner at University of California-Davis refute the figures but the study’s authors retracted their calculations as they applied them to the U.S. Pierre Gerber, a policy officer with the UN-FAO, also admitted that their study did not properly account for all the emissions from transportation like it did for meat emissions. So meat’s emissions were grossly exaggerated in the UN figures.
Mitloehner said the Environmental Protection Agency’s calculations show U.S. livestock’s emissions are less than 3 percent of the total emissions. In fact, Mitloehner gave a presentation at Cornell in April 2019 explaining all this.
Baker is also quite obsessed with subsidies. These days, for main crops like corn and wheat, what subsidies are left tend not to be direct payments but things like lower loan interest or crop insurance subsidies. The government pretty much got out of paying “farmers not to farm” years ago, shifting to a more market-based pricing system, replacing the role of government heavily affecting price setting, mostly to the detriment of price levels. Corn amounted to just 4.5 percent of the total $51.3 billion worth of corn production. Sugar, much more subsidized like cotton and rice, got subsidies amounting to 64.4 percent of $2.4 billion in production.
Another instance where conventional wisdom might be conventional but is not wise. — Steve Dittmer, WLJ columnist
(Steve Dittmer is the author of the Agribusiness Freedom Foundation newsletter.)