The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by WisOpinion.com.
President Joe Biden recently made his second trip to Wisconsin since taking office earlier this year, touting his new infrastructure plan in La Crosse after adjusting what was initially set to be an agriculture-focused trip.
Given the past year has been defined by a pandemic and images of dairy farmers dumping milk due to collapsing prices – all of which followed a year in 2019 that had been filled with hundreds of dairy farm closures across Wisconsin – it’s still important to have the discussion about agriculture and other industries in our state. Thankfully, President Biden has a powerful tool at his disposal that could lift an enormous weight from rural economies and help them bounce back stronger: lifting former President Donald Trump’s tariffs.
President Trump put the tariffs in place in 2018, claiming they would help balance our trading relationship with China. However, that approach was always doomed to burden Wisconsin farmers, businesses, workers, and consumers because of the simple fact that China doesn’t pay for the tariffs, American importers do.
Tariffs are a tax that American businesses pay to the federal government when they import goods from other countries. Tariffs raise costs for domestic businesses, and unfortunately, yielded knock-on effects for farmers when China imposed retaliatory tariffs that caused major export markets for U.S. farmers to turn elsewhere, tanking the industry’s sales.
These costs fell heavily on dairy farmers’ shoulders in particular, as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack acknowledged himself during his time as CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council. Shortly after President Trump first started the trade war, Secretary Vilsack noted that the retaliatory tariffs implemented by China had “created a barrier” to the industry’s momentum in the country. Letting the dispute drag on only exacerbates the risk for farmers.
It’s a barrier that’s particularly large for our state, since dairy farmers contribute over $45 billion to our local economy and help sustain jobs across the state. The more difficult it is for the industry, the more difficult it is for our entire state. It’s a particularly delicate moment for farmers throughout Wisconsin, and they cannot afford the extra costs that tariffs create.
Additionally, the damages aren’t only limited to the agriculture industry. The tariffs affect goods needed for manufacturing and for other businesses to maintain their operations. This then forces companies to either absorb the cost themselves – and potentially downsize their workforce – or pass those prices on to consumers, neither of which is sustainable long-term for businesses, workers, and families.
If President Biden truly wants to set the foundation for a strong economy moving forward, he needs to work with United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai – who also made a recent trip to Wisconsin alongside Representative Ron Kind – to eliminate the tariffs that the former administration imposed on U.S. businesses. It’s a detrimental policy that harms workers across industries, and one that the Biden administration should reverse if it wants to live up to its promise to orient its trade policy around workers.
We need to hold China accountable for its abuses of the global trading system, but tariffs aren’t the way to do it. Instead, President Biden needs to demand that China start acting like a real-world participant and stop cheating the system like they have been for years. We can be tough on China without also being tough on American businesses.
It’s important that President Biden and Ambassador Tai pay attention to how communities throughout Wisconsin and across the U.S. have been hurt by these destructive trade practices. Tariffs are taxes, and they are taxes that farmers and businesses simply cannot afford to keep paying as we bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Duane Garfoot is a family farmer based in Dane County, Wisconsin.