Salud Carbajal: Trade war hurts Central Coast farmers

Trade war hurts Central Coast farmers
Salud Carbajal | 8/1/2018

The Central Coast agriculture industry stands to lose in President Trump’s trade war.

The Chinese retaliatory tariffs — primarily on U.S. agriculture — and fruit hit us particularly close to home.

Agriculture remains a top industry and core part of life on the Central Coast, and our wine and berry production consistently rank among the most profitable in the nation. At a time when our ranchers, farmers and vintners are facing a labor shortage and a historic drought, using American growers as pawns in a trade war harms industries already facing severe challenges.

California produces 97 percent of U.S. wine exports. Last year, we sold $197 million worth of wine to China, and the Chinese market for wine has become more profitable in the last decade.

President Trump insists his tariffs will protect domestic producers, especially small businesses, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. There is no reason for those Chinese markets not to transition to the tariff-free alternatives of our foreign competitors, and our Central Coast wine producers will inevitably bear the costs.

The president’s $12-billion bailout footed by taxpayers to aid farmers is hardly a solution. This policy will only send the U.S. deeper into debt, and puts a small bandage on a problem created by the president’s own reckless foreign-policy decisions.

That is why I joined a bipartisan group of my colleagues in writing to Agriculture Secretary Purdue to highlight the negative impacts of the retaliatory tariffs on California agriculture, and reiterate our support for free and fair-trade policies.

The United States should negotiate for fairer trade practices that benefit American workers, but we must acknowledge the impact of the global economy on local businesses. China is already negotiating new agricultural trade agreements to replace American agricultural products. We are risking a permanent loss of the Chinese markets in this trade war.

I’m fighting for sustainable, commonsense solutions that don’t drive us into an unnecessary and dangerous trade war.

A dysfunctional immigration system has left our ranchers and farmers without a reliable workforce, and the resulting labor shortage cost Central Coast businesses $13.1 million in lost crops in 2016. Key to solving this problem is comprehensive immigration reform, which would allow our farmers and ranchers to hire a sustainable, legal workforce while protecting the rights of workers.

I’m proud to be an original cosponsor the Agricultural Worker Program Act, which creates a path to permanent residency for qualifying existing farmworkers, and gives them temporary protected status.

As the current generation of farmers begins to retire it is critical that we create opportunities for educating and training the next generation. I’ve cosponsored the bipartisan Student Agriculture Protection Act, which incentivizes programs like Future Farmers of America and 4-H by excluding the first $5,000 made from the sale of agricultural projects from a student’s taxable income.

The Central Coast remains in severe-drought conditions. The costly challenges associated with the drought hit our region especially hard, and the agriculture industry is no exception.

Investing in our water infrastructure goes a long way to mitigating some of those challenges, which is why I introduced the bipartisan Water Infrastructure Resiliency and Sustainability Act. This bill creates a competitive funding program through the EPA for the development of innovative water-related infrastructure projects, helping improve the efficiency of our water use.

Central Coast farmers, vintners, ranchers and workers deserve better than a trade war that hurts local business and American consumers. They deserve effective policies that help them thrive. I will keep fighting for solutions to the problems our local agricultural industry faces every day to help ensure its long-term success.

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