American farmers are in a state of uncertainty as the U.S.-China trade war continues. And that’s not the only thing weighing on their minds: Uncertainty surrounding the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is also having a major impact.
“The administration has failed on USMCA — NAFTA 2.0 — while there were needed changes there,” Chris Gibbs, an Ohio soybean farmer who left the GOP after being frustrated with Trump administration policies, told Yahoo Finance. “Keep in mind, NAFTA was built way back before we had cell phones, before we had PCs. So it’s been a long time ago, in digital terms, 1994. We certainly needed updates, but the administration’s failed on that because they never laid the proper groundwork in the House to get it approved.”
The U.S., Mexico, and Canada signed the USMCA, also known as “new NAFTA,” on Nov. 30, 2018 but plans hit a snag as Congress has declined to ratify it. House Democrats reportedly want revisions to the labor, environment, pharmaceutical, and enforcement terms and have been unable to reach a compromise with the Trump administration since then.
Gibbs, 61, argued that the main failure by the current administration was political.
“The Republicans lost 40 seats in the House and lost control,” he said. “Therefore, no guarantee that USMCA is going to get passed. For agriculture, NAFTA was the single best trade deal in my adult lifetime for Midwestern farmers, hands down. Now, certainly there’s argument and discussion on manufacturing and other sectors. I absolutely empathize with that but for Midwestern farmers, that was the single best trade deal for grain farmers, livestock farmers.”
Gibbs is currently exploring the possibility of running for Congress in Ohio’s 4th congressional district as an independent. He would be up against incumbent Republican Rep. Jim Jordan.
“What hasn’t been happening in this district … is that agriculture hasn’t been represented at all, and I think I’m perfectly positioned for that,” he said. “I’ve been in agriculture my whole life, but it isn’t just farmers — because if you’re representing agriculture, you’re representing rural communities, because rural communities are built on agriculture. We’re the ones that take care of the hardware store, the feed store, the local used truck store, the local new truck store, the fuel store. We pay the property taxes for schools, and so we’re the heart of rural communities, and those folks need a voice.”
‘Agriculture is a national security interest’
Despite the partisan issues behind the ratification of USMCA, Gibbs doesn’t feel animosity towards the House Democrats. His frustration lies with President Trump and the fact that agriculture was put into such a situation to begin with.
“I believe that agriculture is a national security interest, hands down, and it should be treated that way,” Gibbs said. “It should be the same third rail of American politics that Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid is. Don’t touch it. And my life’s mission from here on out is to ensure that agriculture is never, ever put front and center in a geopolitical war again, like we’ve seen now.”
He continued: “I lived through it in 1980, when Jimmy Carter embargoed grain to the USSR, and now I’m living through it again, where agriculture was put on the front lines, and that should never, ever happen again.”
According to Gibbs, the Trump administration has failed on three specific areas — the failure to pass USMCA, the tit-for-tat tariffs in the U.S.-China trade war, and removing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
“They failed in the TPP by removing the United States from it,” Gibbs said. “Those countries move on. Now, we’ve lost two years of expanded trade with essentially Pacific Rim countries. And while we made a partial trade agreement with Japan, that only got us back to what we would have had under the TPP two years ago.”
He added that the U.S. should “get rid of all of these tariffs,” he said. “They’ve just got to go, and that’s what I’d be pushing for. We have to get back to free trade. We have to get back to trade without retaliatory tariffs. And we have to get back to trade without punitive tariffs that the United States has put on. This is not the way to do this. The way to do it is through allies, is through building a coalition of allies.”
‘Nothing gets done’
As his comments suggest, Gibbs left the GOP after being frustrated specifically with President Trump’s stance on China in regards to trade and agriculture policies.
“I spent a number of years in politics, and I come from the era of Reagan and Bush Republicanism, when being a Republican was about statesmanship and diplomacy and American exceptionalism,” he said. “And what I see today, in the division and derision between the parties, is just parties moving to a fortress. Each of them has moved to their fortress, and they use the party structure to do nothing but lob insults and bombs out to the others and nothing gets done.”
Should Gibbs decide to run for Congress and win the election, the first thing he wants to do is “pull back the authority” for a president to use Section 232 of the trade law to “punish other countries.”
“We have to take care of these other farmers,” Gibbs said. “Farmers are a national security interest. ... We have safety net programs already built into the 2018 farm bill that are adequate, including crop insurance and so forth. But the tariff money is completely an anomaly because this is a self-inflicted pain. So, we have to quit that.”
Adriana is an associate editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.