Agriculture is Virginia’s largest private industry by far. It has an economic impact of $70 billion annually and provides more than 334,000 jobs in Virginia. In addition, every job in agriculture and forestry supports 1.7 jobs elsewhere in Virginia’s economy.

The substantial impact farming and agriculture have on the commonwealth makes any policies that impact these areas some of the most critical to Virginians. Any good product needs a market to sell to, and Virginia has a great one: China. It is the largest export market for Virginia farms and the largest source of farming revenue, particularly for soybeans, an Old Dominion premium cash crop.

This means that any disruption of trade with this market directly affects Virginia farmers, and subsequently the overall economy. Local farmers now find themselves on the front line of an escalating trade dispute between President Donald Trump and China.

Soybeans and other cash crops such as tobacco form the bulk of the more than $1 billion in grains, seeds and fruit shipped through the Port of Virginia last year, primarily to China, which is the port’s biggest import and export trading partner. Those exports arrive in the Hampton Roads ports not only by rail and truck, but also by barge from the Richmond Marine Terminal as part of the Port of Virginia. Our transportation sectors are thereby also impacted.

Virginia is a major player in the global marketplace with a variety of agricultural commodities, wood products, seafood and specialty food and beverage items. Virginia products are promoted in the international marketplace by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services through its Virginia headquarters and a global network of trade representatives in Canada, China, Europe, India, Latin America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. To be made a victim of the president’s temper tantrums is detrimental to every person and business in the commonwealth. This weaponizing of tariffs has moved trade to the center of U.S. trade Policy, and this is dangerous.

Additionally, these tantrums were a large reason that the Federal Reserve cut rates. The rate cuts will not spur investment in the real economy and are likely to encourage businesses to become more indebted than they already are, an equivalent of over 70 percent of GDP. These zombie companies—that is, those who need bailouts because they cannot pay the principal—will continue to threaten the U.S. economy. Markets throughout the world have repeatedly reacted badly to this style of tariff attacks.

Recent data shows a downward trend as nearly seven years of low agriculture prices, floods, trade tensions, and tariffs are impacting agriculture borrowers. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Chinese imports of American agricultural goods have dropped more than 50 percent, from $19.5 to $9.2 billion.

It is time we put partisan politics aside and call for an end to these destructive policies. Our two U.S. Senators are former governors and know the risks are very real. We must call on all of the members of Virginia’s congressional delegation to act against these and let the president know he cannot continue to hurt the hard-working American people—those he has sworn to protect and serve. These trade wars need to be taken seriously, for they directly hit our homes and our families.

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Timothy P. Cotton, a Culpeper County resident, is the national director of operations of the Alliance Party.

(1) comment

David Reuther

Well researched and straight forward, Mr. Cotton's contribution this week should be praised. Agriculture is important to Virginia and that is why our elected officials like 7th District Representative Spanberger choose an assignment to the House Agricultural committee. Free trade has been an important bipartisan policy since the recognition that high tariffs contributed to the 1930s Depression. Weaponizing tariffs and raising prices for the American consumer illustrates that point. But weaponizing is what this administration has done. Our primary complaint with China is over intellectual property rights, but the administration’s answer was to raise tariffs on steel and aluminum? Anyone familiar with Chinese history since the 1839 Opium War knows China would respond vigorously to this mugging. The American public is being hurt in the pocket book and Mr. Cotton’s advice to tell our elected officials to tell the administration to find another way is well placed advice.

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