‘This is a step forward for us’
Trade Deal touts positive U.S. agricultural impact
By Anna Jauhola
The last few years have been tough for farmers amid trade disputes between the U.S. and China. After President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He signed the first phase of a large trade deal, farmers all over the state of Minnesota can probably see a light at the end of a very long tunnel.
“Soybeans occupy more acres in Kittson County than any other crop,” said County Commissioner Theresia Gillie, who is also a farmer and heavily involved in Minnesota Soybean. “And the majority of our soybeans go to the Pacific Northwest. In the state of Minnesota, before the trade disputes, two out of every five rows of soybeans were going to China. And then it went down to almost a screeching halt.”
Two years ago, China’s trade with the U.S. took a steep decline, hitting farmers particularly hard as Trump imposed high tariffs on many items China imported, including soybeans. This trade deal will increase China’s purchases of approximately $200 billion in goods over the next two years, including $30 billion to $50 billion worth of agricultural products. Should this deal go smoothly over the next two years, the two countries will sign a second phase to the deal, which will include the U.S. dropping some of its import tariffs.
Gillie attended the trade deal signing at the White House having been invited through the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) for her extensive involvement in agriculture policy groups. She attended the event with Bill Gordon, president of the American Soybean Association. She said it was surreal to visit the White House for such a momentous occasion.
“We went through three levels of security just to get to the East Wing, which was packed with people from agriculture, the ag industry, banking industry and more. There were at least 250 if not 300 people there,” she said.
At first, Gillie wasn’t sure why she was invited to attend the trade deal signing but found out the White House had wanted to invite someone from Minnesota who is intricately involved in agriculture. Two people suggested Gillie – Julie Ring, executive director of the AMC, and Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks. Being asked to come through AMC, Gillie worried either she or the county would have to pay. However, she is also a member of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and its officials agreed to pay for her to attend.
Despite sitting through at least 30 minutes of Trump essentially patting U.S. officials on the back for their work on the deal, and completely ignoring the Chinese delegates, Gillie said the deal – once signed – has set a positive air.
“We need both sides on our side,” she said of the U.S. and China. “And it’s our job in agriculture to help them find a way because it’s amazing how many people don’t understand ag. We want to make sure there’s good policy going forward.”
At one point during Trump’s speech, he said a staffer told him U.S. farmers could only provide about $20 billion in ag products but could go up to $50 billion.
“It took everything I had to stay in my seat. I just about stood up and said, ‘Yes we can! We need a challenge and we will do it. Because we’re innovators,’” Gillie said.
She said this trade deal will give agriculture industry partners more incentive to provide the ag industry with the tools required to produce and provide what they need.
She acknowledged the benefits of the trade deal will not be felt overnight, however, she is hopeful the terrible downturn of the last two years will begin to lessen.
“We never anticipated that it would go as low as it is and our profit margins would be so far in the red,” she said.
Gillie’s situation as a farmer is unique because she is able to live mostly off her commissioner’s salary and only has to pay her farm expenses. She said other farmers aren’t as lucky, especially after 2019’s extremely wet spring and fall. Hearing the pain of other farmer’s struggles, and remembering her own struggles of previous years, drives her to work harder for better policy.
During the trade deal signing, Gillie said both Trump and Vice Premier Liu He spoke directly of Phase Two of the trade deal, which gives her hope the deal will hold.
After the event, Gillie took a quick trip to U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson’s office and visited with other Minnesota county commissioners who attended. Then she took the red-eye back to Minneapolis. The following morning, at 3 a.m., she did an interview at WCCO in Minneapolis and appeared on Fox & Friends relating to the trade deal.
And now, with the deal signed, it’s back to a more positive outlook and hope for a decent spring.
“In agriculture, we always say, ‘We want trade, not aid,’” Gillie said. “This is a step forward for us. “I think those markets are going to take the turn we’ve been waiting for a really, really long time.”