President Donald Trump’s “America First” trade policy has helped attract a growing number of blue-collar voters to the GOP, much to the dismay of Democrats. Since 2010, the percentage of those voters who identify as Republicans has grown by 12 points. This shift will continue as the GOP is expected to continue supporting policies that protect and bolster American manufacturing jobs.
In embracing blue-collar voters, however, Republicans should be mindful that our farmers and ranchers are dependent on export markets — 25 percent of U.S. farm products by value are shipped abroad annually. In response to U.S. tariffs on manufactured goods, foreign governments are likely to target U.S. agricultural exports as they did in the recent trade wars. Although 75 percent of farmers backed Trump in 2020, that support could soften if the GOP fails to mitigate these retaliatory impacts by adopting new trade policies that help its core constituency.
Republicans should aggressively push other nations to implement U.S. standards that our farmers and ranchers already meet — especially those related to public health, the environment, and land practices, which are more stringent than many U.S. competitors. Currently, they must compete on unequal footing with foreign producers who are essentially subsidized because of the lack of domestic regulation or their ability to turn illegally deforested public land into private farmland for free, allowing them to undercut U.S. producers on price.
The GOP should also consider import policies that promote fair trade. U.S. law, for example, currently allows agricultural commodities that are grown on illegally deforested land in tropical countries to be imported and sold here at home, unfairly grabbing domestic market share. Republican policy should promote fair competition by ensuring that foreign suppliers adhere to their relevant domestic laws, which, in turn, should align with stringent U.S. science-based standards.
Brazil provides an important example as to why a new approach is needed. Last year, the Trump administration ended a three year ban on disease-riddled beef imports from that nation. That came after Brazilian exporter JBS bribed its country’s public officials in order to bypass health and safety regulations that the United States requires. In response to lifting the ban, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association issued a press statement that expressed "serious concerns" about the reentry of Brazilian imports, arguing that the U.S. decision was premature, particularly given “the lack of scientific evidence that was used to justify Brazil’s initial access to the U.S. market.”
Without the ban, U.S. beef imports from Brazil totaled $100 million last year — and they are expected to grow, potentially to the detriment of U.S. producers. To help level the playing field for domestic ranchers, those imports need to be traceable, legally produced, and adhere to stringent public health standards.
Meanwhile, in addition to disease and corruption concerns, Brazil’s government continues to allow the lawless clearing of the Amazon rainforest — largely to create pastureland for the production and subsequent exportation of this very beef. Tropical deforestation accounts for more carbon dioxideemissions annually than all other sources except for fossil fuel combustion; if deforestation were a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter.
There is growing interest among Republicans in developing a climate change legislative agenda; an agricultural trade policy that discourages illegal deforestation while helping reduce global emissions would fit nicely. It would also build on the GOP’s historical leadership on forests through their championing of the Tropical Forest Conservation Act and President TrumpDonald TrumpTexas announces election audit in four counties after Trump demand Schumer sets Monday showdown on debt ceiling-government funding bill Pennsylvania AG sues to block GOP subpoenas in election probe MORE’s commitment to the One Trillion Trees Initiative.
Finally, these changes in trade policy would help U.S. producers flourish in a rapidly changing global market. Some U.S. allies, such as the European Union and the United Kingdom, are likely to pass legislation to ban the import of commodities when produced on stolen, illegally deforested land. Other countries’ adoption of such policies will enhance U.S. competitiveness in those markets, potentially benefiting American producers. However, if Washington does not impose a similar regime, our farmers and ranchers may suffer as excess foreign supply is dumped into the United States.
While global markets are a cornerstone of a strong capitalist system, they must be fair to America’s ranchers and farmers, who grow their crops and raise their livestock at the highest standard. For Republicans, adopting a strategy that reduces the vulnerability of a core constituency to trade wars and unfair trade practices makes perfect political sense. It also gives the GOP an opportunity to take the lead on developing an agricultural trade agenda that promotes traditional conservation and reduces global GHG emissions.
George David BanksGeorge (David) David BanksLack of transatlantic cooperation on trade threatens global climate change goals How the GOP can extend an 'America First' trade policy to US farmers and ranchers Overnight Energy: House energy panel to address climate change at first hearing | DOJ investigating whether Zinke lied to watchdog | Landmark greenhouse gas agreement takes effect MORE is the former chief strategist for Republicans on the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. He was also an international climate adviser to Presidents Donald Trump and George W. Bush.