John Block: Where To From Here?

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

I don’t think we have any idea where the Trump tariffs on steel and aluminum will take us. There is still a lot of concern about how they could backfire on us, costing markets and pushing up the cost of cars, tractors, and everything metal. However, boosting the cost of a $30,000 car by $150 doesn’t sound like a big deal to me.

On the other hand, the ag industry knows that retaliation by some of our best customers could be devastating. Fortunately, President Trump has announced exemptions for Canada and Mexico while negotiations on NAFTA continue. This does serve as additional pressure on countries to make some concessions in the negotiations. Other allies like Europe and Japan might be able to avoid the tariffs if they can satisfy the President. The whole process is in an unpredictable state of flux.

Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue, rural Members of Congress, and the whole ag industry are working day and night to avoid a trade war.

With all of this going on, we cannot ignore the Pacific Rim trade pact, which was negotiated during the Obama Administration – after which President Trump said it was terrible and pulled the U.S. out of the deal. It would have been good for the ag industry. Now, we need to make a favorable trade deal with those countries individually. President Trump said that the U.S. would consider joining the pact with some appropriate improvements. The uncertainty surrounding trade is off the chart. Enough on trade.

Turn to North Korea. President Trump’s abrupt, out-of-the-blue decision to meet one on one with Kim Jong-un shocked the establishment press and politicians around the world. Many feel it is a stupid, risky idea: North Korea will not be willing to denuclearize; our President will come home humiliated and the U.S. will look weak and foolish.

Although that might be the outcome, I believe that the meeting is worth the risk. Kim Jong-un desperately wants a face-to-face meeting with President Trump. His father was denied that meeting with President Clinton. Also, the “Rocket Man” may be afraid of U.S. military action. I credit our President for having the courage to accept the risk.

Stay tuned.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit

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