Trade wars are no laughing matter, even if over fruits and nuts. We hope the escalation of tariffs between China and the United States will calm down before anyone is seriously affected. In the meantime, I wonder just how interdependent China and the US have become. Manufacturing has spread to southeast Asia; however, much of what we purchase on a regular basis is made in China.
California farmers are speculating what the higher tariffs set by China on imported foods will have on our local economy. There’s a trickle-down effect when farmers’ profits decline. In a hungry world the markets will surely sort out where food will be sold for the best prices; however, trade agreements and breaches to those agreements undercut a free market and fair trade.
As each nation looks out for its own interests and makes or breaks trade agreements via the World Trade Organization, those in business must adjust. In 2016 the Obama administration challenged China over subsidies that caused unfair trade, hurting American rice, wheat and corn farmers, and opened market access by eliminating “unwarranted trade barriers with trading partners”, in the language of the Office of the United States Trade Representative. Politicized trade is a lot of trouble.
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, China imported half a billion dollars’ worth of pistachios and another half a billion dollars’ worth of almonds in 2016-2017. The next most valuable crops on the California tariff list are wine, oranges, grapes, and walnuts which together are worth $458,500,000 – that’s another half a billion.
The fifteen percent tariff increase imposed by China on fruits and nuts will hit home. In Butte County, the top five million-dollar crops are walnuts, almonds, rice, prunes, and cattle. Walnuts, almonds, and rice grown in Butte County are worth half a billion dollars. We’re in the agricultural trade dispute.
I feel happy, nevertheless, to live in the land of fruits and nuts, irrigated by the rich watershed of the northern Sierra Nevada. Let’s keep the situation at the level of trade war, not actual war. We’re more fragile than we may imagine.
When it comes to goods manufactured in China, what if – because of trade wars – we could no longer buy them cheap? Would we all panic if prices at our favorite discount stores soared? Stock up if you foresee need for anything currently made in China.
We’re feeling the high cost of low prices in America. Homelessness, joblessness, under-employment, etcetera from manufacturing lost to overseas production hurts all of us. Our psyche, our budget deficits, our debts are linked to trade policies.
Eventually, as we return to manufacturing more at home in the US, we may thank China for increasing tariffs and be happy for their success. Interdependence is great, to an extent. Adjustments in the trade structure are overdue. If that means trade war, then so be it. When facing a strong nation-state demanding respect, sometimes it’s best to laugh anyway.
Laughing at Adversity was published in the Paradise Post on April 4, 2018.
Robin Huffman lived in Paradise, California from 1989 until she evacuated from the Camp Fire on Nov. 8, 2018.