Contributors

Trade with South Korea makes America a stronger nation

The president's threats and actions on trade has hurt our allies, our economy and in particular, our farmers. The politics of international trade was a key issue in the 2016 election and President Trump's promises to renegotiate or withdraw the United States from most of our major trade agreements was the center of his pitch to Americans. But trade is a complicated part of our economy and a critical part of our international diplomatic and economic toolbox. Trump does not seem to appreciate this complexity.

In 1980, President Carter ordered a grain embargo against the Soviet Union, which had invaded Afghanistan the prior year. This decision was especially unpopular with U.S. farmers whose grain sales to the Soviet Union were significant, and the impact of the embargo on grain prices and related business infrastructure lasted many years. But this use of a trade embargo, which I opposed at the time, was viewed by many as a credible response to an illegal invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, our principal geopolitical and ideological rival.

Contrast this to Trump's recent proposal to pull America out of the U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement and marvel at how little sense it makes. To begin with, South Korea is a close American ally who is under serious and perhaps imminent threat of nuclear war with North Korea, one of the most dangerous nations in our time. That Trump would suggest this at the exact time our ally is facing one of the most serious threats to the entire world in decades boggles the mind.

This is not only a national security issue of the highest magnitude, but a serious attack on our trade relationship with a key ally that will impact numerous industries and jobs in America. The reciprocal trade between the U.S. and South Korea runs into the tens of billions of dollars, benefitting both countries. Especially hard hit would be American agriculture, which has made good progress in recent years in selling agricultural commodities to South Korea.

American agricultural exports have been huge beneficiaries of most trade agreements. Agriculture provides thousands of jobs, billions of dollars to our economy and food for the world. Not everyone in the administration is supportive of this policy. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue especially understands the role of export policy in enhancing farm income, and has been a sound voice on these issues within this administration.

But ultimately, the decision rests with the president. If we cannot rely on the Trump administration to further beneficial trading relationships with an ally like South Korea, how can American farmers rely on the good faith of our government to maintain a healthy bilateral trading relationship with other countries with whom we do business?

It's not just our nonsensical threats to our ally South Korea, but this administration's desire to cancel or substantially modify the North American Free Trade Agreement has serious implications for U.S. farm exports and farm income. These two threats alone have serious potential implications for the health of American agriculture, which is so dependent on agriculture exports.

These potential policy changes by the Trump administration should also worry folks about the viability of current and future trade agreements all of which impact farm exports and farm income. Certainly, the rejection of the Trans Pacific Partnership negatively impacted our exports, in particular agricultural products. Strange indeed for an administration which received much of its electoral support from the good people of rural America.

The health of agriculture depends on open trade. Farmers and ranchers need foreign markets to stay economically viable. Farmers and agriculture is an important part of our economy and our way of life in this country. Export policies should be evaluated, and trade restrictions shouldn't be off the table as a tool of international economics and diplomacy.

But make no mistake about it, the grain embargo initiated by Carter had a huge negative impact on our farmers and rural communities. We do not need, nor can American agriculture cope, with another de facto embargo. To needlessly harm our allies and our farmers is pointless.

Dan Glickman served as U.S. secretary of agriculture under President Clinton and represented Kansas in Congress for 18 years. He is now an executive director at the Aspen Institute and a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

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