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Trade expert sees mixed bag with Trump approach

South Boston News
Richard Crowder / June 06, 2018

Mecklenburg native Richard Crowder returned home Thursday night to offer his perspective on international trade and commerce during a time of upheaval for the world’s trading partners.

A U.S. trade negotiator for agriculture in both Bush Administrations, Crowder, who is now on the faculty of Virginia Tech, told local farmers that “we are not going to have a trade war. It’s just too important not to.” He was speaking during the annual meeting of the Board of Supervisors’ Ag Committee Thursday in South Hill.

“Optimistic but cautious” describes Crowder’s outlook as a former U.S. trade ambassador who discussed a different approach to trade — one not shy about threatening to impose tariffs to assert U.S. interests — from the administration of President Donald Trump.

Crowder downplayed escalating trade threats by the U.S. towards allies and rivals alike as “skirmishes” that “have signaled to the policy makers and trade negotiators that with a trade war, the political and economic consequences are huge.”

A longtime free trade advocate, Crowder’s optimism on avoiding a trade war comes after years of experience negotiating trade deals on behalf of the United States. He did so on the international stage for more than five years under presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, first as under secretary of International Affairs and Commodity programs with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, then as chief agriculture negotiator in the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

He acknowledged that in terms of current policy, “we don’t know where we stand from day-to-day,” in part because “not every trade negotiator [in the Trump administration] is on the same page.

“That is not the best of situations,” he conceded.

Yet Crowder also suggested that the United States’ trading stance towards the rest of the world may not be as dire as it is portrayed in the media. “The press does not always have the latest or most current, up-to-date information” when it comes to trade negotiations, he said. Instead, media coverage tends to fixate on “the rhetoric.”

Crowder explained that public posturing is part of any trade negotiation. He added there’s a purpose to the rhetoric: “establishing a position on a whole list of issues so that you can compromise out to some point of acceptable level of tariffs, quotas or whatever you are negotiating.

“In all negotiations there’s what’s said publicly, the rhetoric, and what’s said privately,” Crowder continued, before sharing a personal experience negotiating a trade deal back in the early nineties. Each day he and his international counterpart would meet in private over breakfast to iron out the details of a trade agreement. Later that same day the two would meet together with their large delegations for what he called the “rhetoric” — or public sessions.

Times have changed, Crowder said. “The playbook is different … We’ve gone from [Ohio State football coach] Woody Hayes, three yards and a cloud of dust, you grind it out, to a West Coast offense. Nobody knows where the play will come from next.”

“There is no one right way to negotiate.” But he allowed that “the public rhetoric is coming from higher up than in the past and the public rhetoric is much sharper.” He also was critical of the administration’s inconsistency on trade — including the practice of threatening to impose trade tariffs, granting exemptions and then reversing direction — and said the Trump administrations demand for a five-year sunset on the NAFTA trade deal is unrealistic.

“We don’t want that. I’ve been involved through Pillsbury and Dekalb with building plants in Mexico, Brazil and other places around the world. You don’t make that kind of investment for a five-year period,” he explained.

In his current position as a professor and Thornhill Endowed Chair in Agricultural Trade at Virginia Tech, Crowder oversees research focused on efficient trade flows and patterns, on the formulation and implementation of trade policy and on commercial opportunities.

From his experience and research, Crowder has concluded that certain negotiating strategies have or could weaken the United States’ trading position in key markets. “We’ve had withdrawals. We negotiated the TPP [Trans Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement involving the U.S., Asian and Pacific Rim nations excluding China] and then the president said, ‘We’re withdrawing.’ I think that’s a mistake. I think it was a good agreement.”

Crowder also called the threat of withdrawing from NAFTA as bad as actual withdrawal and questioned the on-again-off-again tariff battle with China saying, “China has a way of responding.”

Today, Crowder noted, 20 percent of all farm income is from trade. Fifty percent of US soybeans are exported, and of that amount, 60 percent goes to China. Sixty percent of U.S. tobacco, by volume, is exported, and a 16 percent share is to China. Forty percent of all farm exports go to China, Korea, Mexico and Canada. If the United States had stayed in the TPP, ag exports would have jumped to 65 percent, he said.

The goal for the U.S. should be to “make our products more, not less competitive. So if we fall behind in our negotiations, we will create a structural competitive disadvantage for us.”

China, America’s greatest rival on the world economic stage, is ready to fill the void if the U.S. backs away from the world trade system.

Chinese influence is felt both as a producer and consumer of goods, especially agriculture products. “China is the biggest soybean customer in the world — supplied mainly by Brazil and the U.S,” said Crowder. “If we impose tariffs of $150 million such as the President is talking about, though only $50 million today, and they [China] impose a 25 percent tariff on us and soybeans are included in that list, then what you could have is Brazil soybeans sold at $10 a bushel compared to U.S. soybeans at $12.50 a bushel.”

Other ag products that would suffer from tariffs or a trade war — the U.S. has already lost eight percent market share to Mexico in corn and dairy sales because, in the words of Mexico’s trade ambassador as recounted by Crowder, “the uncertainty created by yes NAFTA/no NAFTA, is too much.”

Still, Crowder finds cause for hope in the announcement last week by both China and the U.S. of their commitment to avert a trade war. He also hailed China’s promise to purchase more ag products and derive more energy from the U.S. even though the promises lack specificity.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said. “I’m optimistic but with caveats.”

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Crowder it is clearly evident from your statements that you worked for that globalist swine George Bush and felt right at home. You con artists sell yourselves as wise leaders who know what's best for the people of this country. You all are the problem. Just ask any of the textile workers around here who devoted the majority of their working lives to Burlington only to have their pensions stolen. I have a question. If you all are so smart, and your way is the right way, why did we have a $375 BILLION trade deficit with China last year? Why did we have a $71.1 BILLION trade deficit with Mexico last year? Why was 1986 the last year we had a trade surplus with China? Why have over 50,000 factories (blue collar jobs) closed in this country since 1994? Why are Chinese troops at both ends of the Panama Canal after American taxpayers paid for the construction?


If you all were so smart, put American workers first, and weren't lining your own pockets seems to me you would have figured out how to have China buy $375 BILLION more from us than we buy from them or have Mexico buy $71.1 BILLION more from us than we buy from Mexico. You’re talking about food by the way. We buy cheap junk from them that litters the store shelves in Walmart. They buy food from us. Who exactly do you think would win that war of attrition? Matter of fact you people would have to be stupid or corrupt to accomplish what you have accomplished. This country has the best agriculture, steel, and timber. You geniuses figured out how to have a trade deficit with a communist country that imports water, can’t grow enough timber, and can’t feed its own people. You were supposed to be working for the best interests of the American citizens and yet you figured out how to give Chinese citizens a trade surplus with America.


Free trade is a lie. It's no more real than unicorns, fairies, or women with XY chromosomes. You use a football analogy. "Times have changed, Crowder said. “The playbook is different … We’ve gone from [Ohio State football coach] Woody Hayes, three yards and a cloud of dust, you grind it out, to a West Coast offense. Nobody knows where the play will come from next.”" You're like an NFL coach that has a 4 and 12 record and wants a pat on the back because you weren't the 2017 Cleveland Browns. If we've had a trade deficit with China since 1986 and you're an "expert trade negotiator" what do the Chinese call you? Comrade?


Which years on this chart belong to you?
It's obvious looking at the chart there were experts negotiating trade. They were Chinese!

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