U.S.-China trade wars are affecting Midwestern farmers, panelists say

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Sharon and Ken Schneeberger have seen how the United States’ trade fight with China, a country across an ocean and thousands of miles from the Midwest, is altering their lives.

Sharon Schneeberger’s brother, who’s grown cotton and wheat for 40 years in Oklahoma, has seen his crop prices drop by about 20 percent, as global leaders raise the stakes, imposing new tariff hikes on each other’s goods.

“As he says, ‘That’s my profit,’” Sharon Schneeberger said. “He is really thinking about what is his next step.”

For Ken Schneeberger, director of the College of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources’ international programs, he’s seen the tension between the U.S. and China stall six Chinese scholars’ visas for a scientific cooperation exchange.

“They can’t get visas,” Ken Schneeberger said. “So it’s playing out—”

“Here,” Sharon Schneeberger said, finishing his sentence. “We see it.”

The Schneebergers were two of dozens that attended a panel of experts and politicians on Thursday night to hear them discuss how U.S.-China relations are affecting the Midwest. Gathered in the Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy in Jesse Hall, attendees heard analysis from:

Bob Holden, chairman of the Midwest U.S.-China Association and a former governor of Missouri;Sheena Chestnut Greitens, assistant political science professor and Center for East Asia Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution senior fellow;and Cooper Drury, associate dean of the College of Arts & Science and political science professor.

The event was sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute at MU, a university branch of the conservative think tank supported by Charles and David Koch.

Relations between the U.S. and China have intensified in recent weeks after the U.S. imposed a 10 percent tax on a $200 billion list of over 5,500 Chinese imports in September. China responded soon after, with a 5 or 10 percent tax on a $60 billion list of over 5,000 American goods, according to the Associated Press.

The conflict, which stemmed from President Donald Trump’s objection that Beijing steals or pressures foreign companies to surrender technology, according to the Associated Press, has affected global trade growth predictions, causing the World Trade Organization to cut its estimate by half a percentage point to 3.9 percent.

Missouri companies have been forced to lay off workers and fear tariffs may force them to close their doors.

“What hurts China,” Greitens said, “is also going to have some real negative impact inside the United States. It may raise consumer prices. A quarter of Missouri’s soybean exports go to China. China is looking to substitute Brazilian soybeans, so American farmers, Missouri farmers right now have a really tough choice to make.”

And there’s no guarantee that trade agreement could be rebuilt, Drury said.

“If you break off trade with somebody and it’s between two democracies ... those trade relations return to normal pretty rapidly,” he said. “If it’s not two democracies — and China’s not — it tends not to return. I think the consequences are potentially much greater.”

And as Holden pointed out, many of those crops have an expiration date.

“That product is done in six months or a year,” Holden said.

Midwestern farmers aren’t the only ones noticing. In September, China Daily, a daily newspaper of the People’s Republic of China, took out a four-page advertisement touting the benefits of a U.S.-China trade relationship. Trump called the supplement “propaganda ads” in a tweet, and claimed that “...the farmers will make a fortune when this is over!”

The move suggests how the Midwest is a cornerstone of what China sees as Trump’s supporters, Greitens said.

“Even just politically, it’s pretty clear that China is targeting the states that it perceives as Trump’s political base and the administration’s political base,” she said.

As the state treasurer of Missouri in the 1990s, Holden saw how the Midwest could be an asset to China.

He went on to open Missouri’s first trade office in China and now serves as the chairman of the Midwest U.S.-China Association, a nonprofit that encourages commerce between the Midwest and China. But Holden worries the trade fight will have lasting negative effects.

“My concern is that the tariff discussions that are occurring,” Holden said, are “actually closing a lot of those doors of opportunity long-term.”

And with a global economy, the U.S.’ own products and ability to manufacture them may get hurt in the complex process that could have unforeseen effects, Greitens said.

“A lot of our exports to China are things that then go in products that get exported back. So we’re essentially raising the prices on things that we’re making the components for,” Greitens said. “And so, to the extent that that means that fewer of those products get sold, that’s going to impact our manufacturers’ ability to export those components in the first place.”

Greer Wetherington, the executive chair of the American Enterprise Institute at MU, hopes attendees realized the role that the Midwest — and they — can play in the global discussion.

“I hope that people are inspired to get involved,” Wetherington said. “Not just involved with academics and whatnot, but involved with government in many different forms.”

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