Thursday, October 15, 2015

How's Hillary From A South Dakotan's Perspective? Her Ambivalence On TPP Should Make Us Wonder.

Clinton
With TPP, She's On The Fence 
(photo from gettyimages.com)
     For a while there it looked like Hillary Clinton would do some positive things for a rural
state like ours if elected to the Presidency.  Actually, her proposals were a fairly representative laundry list of the kinds of initiatives that ag-producers would expect from a Democrat in the White House. Last August she was telling Iowans that 1) she wants stronger renewable fuel standards (read more bio-fuel subsidies and mandates), 2) intends to expand the Rural Business Investment Program 3) create a bank that would finance rural infrastructure investments, 4) double food promotion programs, 5) expand safety nets--and so on.  Not to blow off this multi-part plan, but space does have its limits.  Go to my link if you want more specifics, otherwise, you get the gist.  
     It's an altogether impressive agenda, for sure, even though there isn't much in the way of an explanation as to how her administration would find the money to pay for all these promises. But, given that quasi-socialist Bernie Sanders (He calls himself a "democratic socialist," which to me seems like an effort to make him sound more socialist than Democrat or, from another perspective, more Democrat than socialist. That merits a big "huh?",  but that's the idea.  If you're not already thoroughly confused, his rhetorical sleight-of-hand hasn't worked on you yet . . . give it time.) is giving her a good run for the Dem nomination, Clinton probably has to focus more on promises than delivery just now.  All of which is okay, or at least par for the political course at this stage of the campaign, where candidates tend to run to the extremes during the primary and run more to the middle in the general.  
     Only problem is, the Clinton campaign seems to ignore the most compelling reason that most producers would need to win their votes.  Ag production is all about prices, and nowhere in the Clinton literature do I see much about ways to help farmers and livestock producers better prices for their goods. Considering that agriculture is by far the biggest component in South Dakota's economy, her thoughts on how to find ways of delivering better and more lucrative marketing opportunities to the ag industry aren't the entree of her appeal to rural Americans.  I'm not sure they're even a side dish.  Fact is, by backtracking spectacularly on her support for the farmer/rancher-friendly Trans-Pacific Partnership during the Democratic debate this week, Clinton actually antagonized the largest food production organizations in the country.
     Forced to politically kow-tow to the Sanders wing of the party, which sees TPP as a vehicle for "big money" interests to continue to exploit the working stiffs of this world,  Clinton backed
Marketing U.S. Beef In Tokyo, 2015
TPP Stands To Help Out With This
(photo from gettyimages.com)
away from her support for the trade agreement.  
By doing so, she has run afoul of some very powerful rural support groups, all of them strongly represented in South Dakota. Among them are The Farm Bureau, The American Feed Industry Association, the American Soybean Association, The International Dairy Foods Association, The National Cattlemen's Beef Association, The National Chicken Council--I mean the list goes on.  We're talking about virtually every mainstream producer group in the country, along with many, many members in SD.
     These groups and their members have one thing in common:  they all do well when American ag exports are strong.  More relevant to South Dakota, our ag exports to China, which has expressed interest in becoming a key member of this agreement (after a long period of skepticism) have skyrocketed in the past decade, up 453% to nearly $900 million a year.  To put it in some perspective, more than a third of South Dakota's soybeans are sold to China.  TPP, by further lowering tariffs, would only make our state's production even more competitive in the growing and lucrative east Asian markets, where the Trans Pacific Partnership is focused.  
     So even as I admire Clinton's aim to make day to day life better in states like South Dakota, her sudden waffling of support for TPP makes me wonder if she really cares or understands what drives our state's economy from the get-go:  grain and livestock prices.  She needs to explain to us why she's backing away from a deal that can only be good for the vast majority of South Dakota's farmers and ranchers.  

10 comments:

  1. Memo to Snort. Sorry, I inadvertently deleted your comment. Readers, Commenter Snort wondered why Dems should care what South Dakotans think when they don't have a chance here anyway. Apologies to commenter Snort.

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  2. I didn't see what 'Snort' wrote, but be assured that South Dakota's 3 electoral votes are securely in the 'R' column - regardless of who either party nominates.

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    1. No question, Curt, but it has to hurt the state party when its national leadership stands against a measure like TPP, which pretty clearly has a lot of support within SD's ag community.

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  3. John - Did you miss my point? I don't know whether a Dem might carry Texas, but that state GAINED more electoral votes (4) prior to the last presidential election than our state has (3).

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    1. I don't think I missed your point, Curt. SD doesn't amount to much in Presidential elections, but looking at it from my perspective inside the state, I think Hillary's sudden skepticism about a trade pact that has strong support from South Dakota's mainstream ag organizations will give Pubs all the more ammo when it comes down to local elections for national reps. Paula Hawks will spend time trying to disassociate herself from Hillary's doubts about TPP at gatherings of ag producers during this cycle. I've fed enough cattle here to know how sensitive these folks are to national policies involving foreign trade.

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  4. Hold on, John: China isn't a signatory to TPP, is it? Are you referring to China's indirect involvement in trading with nearby countries who are in TPP?

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    1. Should have clarified, Cory. As of yet the answer is no. I erred in referring to China as a "key member," and should have referred to China as a "key trading partner" with respect to American ag interests. The Chinese have left the door open to membership in TPP, and I made a revision in my post to reflect that. Regret the error and appreciate your heads up over it.

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    2. Thanks, John! TPP is complicated enough—I'm just trying to keep all the details straight. :-)

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  5. Is "rural support groups" the right term? I look at the list of TPP backers you offer and see a bunch of corporate lobby groups. Dakota Rural Action and Farmers Union aren't as enthused about TPP. I understand the practical political argument: challenging TPP means challenging big money and big lobby power. If all I wanted to do was win an election, I'd rather have DRA and SDFU mad at me than the groups representing the ag-industrial complex. But what do you think of the argument that TPP could complete the hollowing out of rural South Dakota the way that NAFTA hollowed out Detroit and U.S. manufacturing? Is it possible that Clinton and Sanders could argue that rural America would be better off without TPP?

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    1. I think the hollowing out process for manufacturing isn't likely to occur in our farm belt because manufacturing is portable and can be moved from one country to another. You take small, high-population-density countries like Korea, Japan, Taiwan and so on--they just don't have the arable acreage that the United States has, so they're quite dependent on American food products, particularly beef, which takes huge amounts of grass and feed production to supply. Canada and Australia are in the same boat that we are, but neither country comes close to American-style production because row crops aren't anywhere near as immense in those countries as they are in the States. Been a while since I checked, but I'm pretty sure the Canadian beef cattle herd is smaller than the herd in Texas. Pretty sure Australia compares similarly.

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