Weeks after Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping agreed to a truce in the U.S.-China trade war on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Osaka, negotiations remain on pause, and speculation is growing that neither side is particularly eager for a deal. Last week, reports emerged that American and Japanese negotiators are intensifying efforts to strike a smaller trade deal that Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe could sign during the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September. The news hardly looks like a coincidence.
Trump is desperate for a trade deal that could provide some relief to American farmers hard hit by his protectionist policies. The U.S. farm lobby wields substantial influence in Washington, and that means its members are frequently in the bullseye when other countries retaliate during trade disputes. With China having become one of the largest markets for U.S. agricultural exports like soybeans, cotton and pork, the pain from this trade war is particularly intense for farmers.
Implementation of the salvaged Trans-Pacific Partnership at the end of last year might have provided some relief for commodity exporters. But Trump withdrew from the TPP in his first week on the job. As a result, American exporters are not seeing the additional market access they might have enjoyed in Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam and other countries that signed on to the TPP, which went ahead without the U.S. and is now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP.