The Federalist: You’ve all seen the headlines: “China is hitting the U.S. where it hurts: Soybeans,” and “China takes aim at America’s soybean farmers,” and “Soybean farmers are still paying for Trump’s trade war” (all from CNN).
The popular narrative goes that because President Trump launched a trade war against China, China has retaliated by tariffing America’s chief export to China—agricultural products—which happen to mostly come from red states that voted for Trump. China is “crushing prices” with its retaliatory tariffs, says HBO’s Vice News. In other words, the media narrative goes, China is punishing Trump voters for being dumb enough to vote for a trade warrior.
Before the midterms, the media took its narrative one step further. Just about every mainstream media publication ran a story that said farmers may abandon Republicans because of Trump’s trade war. Quartz, for example, wrote: “New tariffs on pork exports have forced some U.S. hog producers to liquidate parts of their farming operations. One farmer who spoke to Reuters said Trump’s trade war with China cost him $200,000 this year, and that he regretted voting for Trump in 2016. He isn’t alone”
In other words, “When will the dumb Trump-supporting farmers realize that they have been conned?” You can rest assured that this narrative will once again surface before 2020’s election. Except that none of it is true. American farmers are certainly hurting, but little of this is due to the trade war. The media is trying to take advantage of American farmers’ pain for political purposes.
China Has Long Restricted U.S. Ag Trade
First of all, China long ago restricted imports of U.S. pork. According to Bloomberg, since 2011, America’s share of China’s pork imports fell from about 50 percent to less than 13 percent by 2016. China blamed this on “unsafe” U.S. pork, because most American pork producers supplement pigs’ diets with ractopamine, a safe additive fed to hogs several weeks before slaughter to help them bulk up with more lean meat.
Really, there are plenty of safety concerns with Chinese pork, and American pigs are raised and slaughtered in much more clean, controlled, and humane environments than are their Chinese cousins. In other words, China was long ago playing protectionism and attempting to boost its own hog production—so even here, Trump had a point all along.
Next, there’s a big reason that China is buying less soybeans, and it has nothing to do with the trade war. China’s pig population is being rocked by a terrible pig disease called African Swine Fever (ASF). What is ASF? ASF was first detected in Africa more than a century ago, but it has been spreading like wildfire in China since at least last year. There is no cure for ASF, and it kills well more than 90 percent of the pigs it infects in less than a week, via massive hemorrhaging. This is a gross, messy disease—think of Ebola, but for pigs. more here