In my October 2017 online column, which appeared in the November 2017 print magazine, my focus was an evaluation of President Donald Trump’s performance as it relates to agriculture. This month’s edition is an update to determine whether progress has been made.
Any performance review, no matter how informal the setting, can be a daunting experience. Nonetheless, it can also be a useful tool to determine progress, whether specific goals are met, and to set a path towards completing realistic goals.
I give Mr. Trump a D+, up from an F. Thanks to an agreement made with Japan, we regained one of the major export markets we lost because of our withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership by executive order. Japan also is one of the signatories of the recently completed Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
American producers and exporting businesses can now move ahead restoring trade relations with Japanese businesses. However, we have yet to complete any further agreements with the remaining nations.
China is taking a long-term approach to the trade war and it appears they are unwilling to move quickly in the near-term to resolve this issue. Nor is Mr. Trump expressing interest in resolving it quickly, either, reportedly saying he may not even need an agreement prior to the 2020 presidential election. One question then remains: will the Market Facilitation Program payments continue after the 2020 election, even if an agreement is not forthcoming?
NAFTA (Correction: USMCA)
I give Mr. Trump a C+, up from a C. It could have been better, but though the agreement is recently completed, it is yet to be approved by Congress. Why?
Currently, as I write this, impeachment hearings are underway, not to mention the drama that goes with it. The upside is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicates the possibility of bringing the agreement to the floor soon.
This impasse points to age-old advice given to those in charge: Never bite off more than you can chew at one time. Too many changes via executive order in the beginning now require multiple political solutions to multiple problems, which also collide with other non-related, politically motivated events that take precedent. In other words, “take a number and wait your turn.”
Immigration and the wall
Downgraded from C+ to a C. There has been no substantive movement to solve the immigration problem, with the exception of an executive order to secure funding from the Department of Defense budget to build a wall.
Of the funding authorized in the omnibus bill recently passed, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said, “The one thing we don’t fund is the one issue we campaigned on — a border security wall — and that is not in the legislation.”
House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi also said, “Democrats won explicit language restricting border construction to the same see-through fencing that was already authorized under current law.”
Based on information gleaned via politifact.com, of the funding received to build 334 miles of the “new border wall system,” only 60 miles have actually gone up, and that is primarily to replace existing structures, not building new structures in designated areas where there were none.
As for immigration, the USDA working group has released proposed changes to the H-2 program and is allowing a 60-day comment period. The 500-page document, “could help growers using the program without causing harm to workers from abroad, or potential U.S. workers,” according Kerry Scott, program manager for labor placement firm másLabor. Other than this, there are no further efforts to revise the H-2 program.
Climate change accord
Can one get anything worse than an F? The grade stands.
Downgraded from a B to a C. Although the Waters of the United States rule has been pushed into the background, Andrew Wheeler, acting administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has not changed course from his predecessor’s granting of refinery waivers, significantly altering demand for ethanol and corn. Agriculture is on a collision course with big oil and the Trump administration in the near future.
There you have it. If I were assigning points on this report, it would be just below a C-. In other words, there has been only a slight improvement in overall performance. Stay tuned.
Penner is a Marion County farmer and past president of the National Association of Wheat Growers. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.