Coronavirus tensions put strain on China trade deal

D.C. Bureau

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — Midwestern farmers were looking forward to better times thanks in part to phase one of President Donald Trump’s trade deal with China, but now fear that increased tensions between the U.S. and China because of the coronavirus pandemic, along with the overall weakness of the global economy, might make this another bad year.

“It does cloud the outlook a little bit,” David Salmonsen of the American Farm Bureau said.

Phase one of the deal required China to purchase billions more in agricultural products, but the pandemic is causing concerns.

“They’ve gotten off to a very slow start,” he said, noting that without a big increase by summer, farmers could be in trouble. “China can purchase more from us. They have in the past. We hope they’ll surpass that going forward.”

Farmers were already at a breaking point because of a few years of poor weather and Trump’s tariffs before phase one of the deal.

“We’re at all-time lows in our pricing and so we’ve got to get a deal done,” Rep. Cindy Axne, D-Iowa, said. “All we’ve seen in Iowa is policies that are hurting our farmers and it’s forcing our family farms out of business.”

The president has blamed China for the pandemic and some lawmakers are calling for the U.S. to retaliate. But trade expert Bill Reinsch of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said he doubts the president will lash out.

“Why he would want to hit the American economy with another blow, more tariffs, before the election, I can’t imagine,” he said.

Rep. Ron Estes, R-Kan., said he doesn’t want the tensions linked to coronavirus to spill over.

“The political aspects are going to play out in another arena but let’s make sure we address trade issue,” he said.

Publicly, the U.S. and China remain committed to furthering the deal, but the president has stopped answering questions on the topic. Talks about phase two of the deal have been suspended.

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