The MonDak had a front row seat of its own at the White House Wednesday, Jan. 15, for the signing of the phase 1 trade deal with China. Representatives included North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, Montana Sen. Steve Daines, and North Dakota Sens. Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven. Representing farmers in the Great Plains, meanwhile, was Daryl Lies, president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau.
Q: Daryl, can you tell us about the signing ceremony today? That must have been exciting.
Lies: There was a lot of excitement in that room, and through the hallways as we were waiting in line to get into the room. Historic is probably the best way to describe this, because never before have we had a signed agreement like this with China. And, after today, it’s only phase 1, but it is truly historic to have an actual agreement. So I think it’s going to be a big positive, a big win for agriculture and a big win for America in general. All Americans will benefit from this phase 1 package.
Q: What do you like best about the China trade deal?
Lies: Forty-billion in agriculture goods. The highest year we’ve ever had was in the mid $20 billions, like $25, $26 billion, somewhere in there. And they average $16 to $18 billion a year. So 2.5 to 3 times the average number should excite everyone involved in agriculture.
Q: What do you like least in the deal?
Lies: I don’t know that there is anything to like least. What we had wasn’t working, now we have something. Something with protocols. And hopefully some of the wrongs have been righted that have been happening over the years. The stealing of intelligence and all of that. I hesitate to point out a bad thing. You cannot judge something bad when it’s the first time you’ve had something. So, until we see how this plays out — obviously there are things that will need tweaking by phase two.
Q: What about the lack of specifics that’s been talked about in the media?
Lies: The vice premier today did say $40 billion today in agricultural products. He uttered the words. So it’s not just the U.S. saying that any more. Now some of the details on how much of what commodity, some of that is left open. But there are some specifics from what I understand. There are some protocols for certain purchases but those are not being released because they don’t want a false market fluctuation. You don’t want the market to run up fast or to crash fast. That market distortion could be devastating.
Q: It’s been quite a month for agriculture, hasn’t it?
Lies: January has been a big historic month. The Japan deal went into effect January 1. There was the China signing today. The USMCA is passing tomorrow and will be signed next week sometime. We have some things going. The EU did their hormone agreement.
The month of January is just tremendous for agriculture. And for America, for people who require some sort of trade or depend on trade, the month of January 2020 is just a historic month.
Q: Do you feel the pain of the trade war has been worth it for agriculture?
Lies: We’ve got to understand we have been in a depressed farm economy for five years now. We’ve only been dealing with trade issues for just two. Our concerns with commodity prices didn’t just happen because of the trade deals. Has it contributed to keeping prices depressed? Yes. And will this bolster prices overnight? No. These trade things take a while to work out and for orders to come through. But the certainty we have with the China market back in full force — actually full force plus — with the numbers in this agreement, that certainty alone will help level and take out that extreme valley we have seen the last couple of years. Hopefully that will happen because we need a market place. Our farmers and ranchers are so good at what they do, they can over-produce what we need. So any export market we can gather helps them. And we are proud of the fact we can produce what we do and keep producing more with the same inputs and the same size of lands.
Q: What have you heard from other farmers on this topic?
Lies: I have had some of our members reach out to me and say you know it’s going to be painful, but keep supporting the administration. Keep giving them the information of what’s important to us. We are willing to endure the pain. And I’ve heard from some of them, ‘We believe the pain will be worth this.” Of course, the proof will be in the pudding as far as how much they order and how long it takes to get here. The pain that our founding fathers endured to give us our independence and form our country is way more than the little bit of pain we have to do to gain our country back. That kind of patriotic attitude in our farmers and ranchers is something I’m really proud of. It hasn’t been easy, but in the end I do think it will pay off, and I’m hearing from our members that they think it will pay off also.