For decades old-guard politicians and multinational corporations worked together to satisfy their mutual self-interests – more wealth. They did so with little regard for the negative consequences to America’s economy. They prospered but America didn’t.
President Trump called out their pocket-lining trade deals that encouraged offshoring of domestic manufacturers, granted unlimited foreign access to our U.S. market, and allowed importers to conceal the origins of cheaper, foreign goods, like imported beef that was displacing domestic-produced beef and destroying domestic supply chains.
President Trump declared those old guard politician- and corporation-enriching trade deals stupid. He also promised to put a stop to them once he was elected. He said America needs to begin making more of what it consumes. It is time to put America first was his mantra.
True to his word, President Trump began reversing several economy-destroying trade policies incepted by his predecessors. He initiated actions to stop China from destroying America’s defense-critical steel and aluminum industries and from stealing intellectual property from America’s manufacturers.
He didn’t stop there. Recognizing the economy-boosting power of patriotism and transparent markets, President Trump quickly issued an executive order to “Buy American and Hire American,” effectively elevating his “America First” initiative to a national imperative.
America’s cattle farmers and ranchers were elated with his “Buy American” pronouncement because their economic standing was fast deteriorating under the weight of millions of imported cattle and billions of pounds of cheap, undifferentiated beef from a host of foreign countries including Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, Brazil, Uruguay, and Mexico – countries whose production standards are obviously less stringent than in America.
The president set out to allow United States cattle farmers and ranchers to proudly distinguish their superior American beef with a “Product of USA” label under a mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law. This COOL law would allow American consumers to express their patriotism by complying with the presidential “Buy American” request. Hopes and expectations were high that the president would soon reverse the ongoing contraction of America’s iconic ranching industry by enlisting the American consumer to buy American beef.
But then, a funny thing happened on his way to the office.
President Trump unexpectedly encountered an impenetrable virtual wall comprised of the same old-guard politicians and powerful multinational corporations that had orchestrated the trade deals the president now vows to reform. Those old-guard trade deals are destroying America’s cattle farming and ranching operations with floods of cheaper, undifferentiated imported beef and cattle that are driving America’s cattle prices lower and displacing America’s beef production.
So powerful is this old guard, that President Trump folded. He bowed to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and to the multinational meatpacker lobbyist, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). President Trump dutifully recanted his promise to allow U.S. cattle farmers and ranchers to differentiate their superior beef from imported beef. He effectively withdrew his promise to strengthen the domestic supply chain of the largest segment of American agriculture – the U.S. cattle industry.
America lost 20 percent of its cattle farms and ranches since the 1994 implementation of the failed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The U.S. beef cow herd remains millions of head smaller than when NAFTA was put in place. The average age of America’s cattle farmers and ranchers is now over 58 years, a result of years-long lack of profitability that discourages new entrants.
Today’s cattle farmers and ranchers are receiving prices for their cattle that are well below levels they were at during the three years prior to President Trump’s election. And yet, prices consumers are paying for beef remain at near record highs. In fact, since President Trump has taken office the multinational beef packing corporations are earning unprecedented margins, and they are doing so on the backs of American cattle farmers and ranchers and American consumers.
The corrupt policy that prevents consumers from knowing from which country the beef they purchase for themselves and their families originated is the best policy the old-guard politicians and their multinational corporations can buy. That is if they are trying to exploit family-sized cattle farming and ranching operations on one end of the supply chain and America’s consumers on the other.
Some things never change.
Bill Bullard is the CEO of R-CALF USA, the nation’s largest non-profit trade association representing the U.S. cattle industry.