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Pennsylvania Farmers Hit Hard By China Tariffs And Devastated Crops

May 15, 2019
Originally published on May 15, 2019 10:03 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now we're going to look at how the trade war between the U.S. and China is affecting people in Pennsylvania. Yesterday we spoke with the Republican governor of Nebraska. Pennsylvania's governor, Tom Wolf, is a Democrat, and he joins us on the line now. Thanks for being here.

TOM WOLF: Thanks for having me, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So your state's steel producers have benefited from tariffs on Chinese steel. But on the other hand, farmers in Pennsylvania say these tariffs are hurting the market for their products. On balance, do you think these tariffs have hurt or helped people in your state?

WOLF: I think on balance they've hurt people in the state. And I think it's not just the tariffs. I think there's the chaos surrounding the tariffs. There's a frustrating lack of strategy on the part of the administration. Of course farmers are hurting because they're uncertain about whether they're going to have markets or not. And I think all of us are just concerned that the administration really doesn't know what they're doing.

SHAPIRO: Now, as I mentioned, we spoke yesterday with Nebraska's Republican governor, Pete Ricketts. Agricultural exports to China from his state have dropped by more than half, but he told us he still thinks Nebraska farmers support the president.

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PETE RICKETTS: They are the ones who are telling me that, hey, we support what the president's doing; we don't necessarily appreciate the pain we're going through right now. But they also understand that this is an important relationship that is fair and balanced on both sides.

SHAPIRO: Governor Wolf, what's your response to the argument that it is worth short-term suffering to make long-term gains in the trade relationship with China?

WOLF: I think we need a fair and a good relationship. In terms of trade, it has to be - we have to have fair trade. But that doesn't look like that's what we're getting. And that's not helpful to anybody.

SHAPIRO: You know, the government has offered an aid package to farmers who are hurt by this because they're bearing the brunt of these tariffs. Do you think that's insufficient, inadequate?

WOLF: Well, the farmers I've talked to said that it actually is a Band-Aid. Why are we doing that. Why don't we address the underlying, root cause problem, which is we don't maybe have a fair trading system. But farmers are hurting, and this isn't helping.

SHAPIRO: How would you fix this broken trade relationship if not tariffs?

WOLF: Well, tariffs are a blunt instrument. And tariffs are not a good thing in, I think, any - but if you have to adjust the trading velocities between countries, you might want to do it in a way that does not lead to the kind of chaos we're seeing right now.

This is not good for the economy. It's not good for a market economy. It's certainly not good for Pennsylvania - consumers, small businesses, businesses of any kind, manufacturing and certainly not for the farmers. So we could do a lot better than this.

If we have a problem with currency manipulation, if there are problems with specific products, then we need to use the institutions that exist like the World Trade Organization. But just engaging in sort of a really incomprehensible trade war to make a political - score political points does not seem to me to be very constructive.

SHAPIRO: You know, in 2016 President Trump ran on a position of boosting U.S. steel and getting tough on China. He appears to be doing both of those things. And he carried the state of Pennsylvania two years ago. And so I wonder whether you are at odds with your constituents here.

WOLF: I think if you talk to anybody in Pennsylvania regardless of who he or she voted for, you would find people who want to make sure that we are not disadvantaged by the world trading system. But there is a way to build, I think, an institutionalized world trading system that could help Pennsylvania and do the things that he talked about doing. What he's doing is not doing what he wanted it to do.

SHAPIRO: Just briefly, what have you heard from one of your constituents that you can share with us?

WOLF: Yeah, we - well, I've heard from a number. Pennsylvania, as I say, has - farming is the biggest industry in Pennsylvania. And we are doing a lot of things to try to encourage agriculture in so many different ways to cater to the markets that we ought to cater to. One of the markets is China. We have a big livestock industry that could potentially do a lot with a country like China. We need to find ways to make that system work.

SHAPIRO: All right, Tom Wolf, Democratic Governor of Pennsylvania, thank you for joining us today.

WOLF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.