In 2011, a group of Chinese nationals dug up genetically engineered seeds from an Iowa corn field and planned to steal and send them back to China, so they could be reverse engineered. Those seeds, the result of years of research and millions of dollars of American investment, now stand as one of countless pieces of evidence in the case against China for intellectual property theft and unfair trade practices.
Now, President Donald Trump is standing up to China, which wrongly believes it can bully our farmers to get America to back away from defending our national interests. The president understands that our farmers feed, fuel and clothe this nation and the world, and he will not allow U.S. agriculture to bear the brunt of China’s retaliatory tactics.
American producers have benefited from the policies of the Trump administration, including historic tax reforms and reduced regulations. And farmers know that 20 cents of every dollar of their income relies on trade, which is why they are watching the situation with China closely. The simple truth is that when trading partners break the rules, there must be consequences.
To stop China’s predatory attacks on America’s innovation base, President Trump is instituting a program of tariffs and is considering investment restrictions and strengthened export controls. These tariffs will help pressure the Chinese to stop engaging in unfair practices and fully open up its markets to U.S. products, including U.S. technologies. The correct response from China would be to stop stealing from Americans and give American products a level playing field to compete in China, not to retaliate and reinforce its own position.
There is no denying that the disruption in trade relations with China is unsettling to many in agriculture, but if the president succeeds in changing China’s behavior, America’s farmers will reap the benefits.
In the meantime, the president has instructed me to craft a strategy to support our farmers in the face of retaliatory tariffs. At the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we have tools at our disposal to support farmers faced with losses that might occur due to downturns in commodities markets. To this point, we have not unveiled our strategy, as it is not good practice to open our playbook while the opposing team is watching.
But farmers should know this: They have stood with President Trump and his policies, and we will make good on our promise to stand with them as well. If China does not soon mend its ways, we will quickly begin fulfilling our promise to support producers, who have become casualties of these disputes.
Without question, there is much at stake for this nation in trade disagreements. A bullying and predatory China has made no secret of the fact that it seeks to acquire America’s technological crown jewels by any means necessary — through physical and cybertheft, forced technology transfer, evasion of our export controls, and state-directed and -funded investment in sensitive technology. And while it may seem outrageous, China has rejected American genetically engineered products, while sending agents crawling in corn fields to pilfer samples of our technology and even purchasing a company that provides U.S. farmers with key genetically engineered seeds.
President Trump has said correctly that if China captures the industries of tomorrow, America will not have an economic future to look forward to — and our national security will be severely compromised. Cutting-edge technologies — from artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and biotechnology to aerospace, high-tech shipping and robotics — are critical to our defense. We are faced with a decision: Will others determine our destiny, or will we control our own future?
China began raiding our economy long before a team of thieves infiltrated that Iowa corn field, but President Trump aims to stop the larceny now. The president is a tough negotiator, and I am confident that American agriculture will flourish because of trade relationships that are smarter, stronger and better than before. China might underestimate the strength and resolve of American farmers, but the president does not. And he will not allow our agricultural producers to suffer because of China’s continued bad actions.
Sonny Perdue is the Secretary of Agriculture. This op-ed appeared in USA Today on June 25, 2018.