Some of the groups hit hardest by the president’s hard-line trade tactics, like soybean growers, say they won’t see meaningful gains in Japan.
Soybean exports through July were down $5.5 billion from the previous year, a nearly 30 percent drop. Now farmers are planting 9 million fewer acres of the crop this year, or 10 percent less than 2018, according to USDA estimates.
Even pork producers, who count Japan as one of their most valuable markets, view the newly signed trade deal as helping them get back to even after Trump’s TPP exit.
A trade agreement with the European Union is another top target for the Trump administration. But some trade watchers predict a potential pact with Europe, like Japan, would still not be enough to make up for heavy losses in China over the long run.
“They’re not real growth markets,” said Joe Glauber, former chief economist at the Agriculture Department. “You don’t see the sort of growth in per-capita protein consumption that you see in China.”
Trade officials are planning to resume high-level talks with Beijing officials next week in an attempt to reach a deal that would reopen China’s markets to U.S. farmers. But the administration is also eyeing other trade routes for the future. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has frequently cited the number of “hungry mouths” in countries like India, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.
“I think we became too dependent on the Chinese market, with soybeans, particularly,” he told POLITICO.
USDA trade officials have led a series of overseas trips in an effort to open new markets, including a visit to Canada this month and three more missions planned for 2019. The trade trips have frequently yielded one-off agreements and private sales between U.S. companies and foreign buyers — but not exactly the game-changing deals that farmers and trade groups say are needed.
Ted McKinney, undersecretary for trade and foreign agriculture, has touted the success of the trade delegations in laying the foundation for a more diversified export network. At a House Agriculture Committee hearing in June, he mentioned a 2018 visit to Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras that set a record for agricultural sales resulting from a USDA-sponsored mission.
The 12-month sales projection for Guatemala following the trip was $49 million, the highest total since USDA launched the trade mission program in 2010, according to the Foreign Agricultural Service.
“Though that’s not a China-, Canada-, Mexico-, Japan-[sized] market … it does say that there’s business out there if we go knock on the door,” McKinney said. “Multiply this times many, many areas, and I think you get something.”