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Toban Dyck: Can loyalty be bought?

Loyalty is trumping common sense in today’s trade environment

U.S. President Donald Trump’s new trade deal with China is an attempt to buy loyalty and in Canada, it’s dividing consumers and farmers.

Trump recently signed a trade deal with Beijing, exciting farmers and hopefully breathing new life into a sleepy marketplace.

The hope that farmers cling to — myself included — is that someone like Trump, Trudeau or any other political leader would be able to build strong global relationships, creating a space for a commodities market to develop that has enough resiliencies to endure the occasional curveball.

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The market will judge the success of this agreement and hopefully, the benchmark isn’t just a return to the way things were. Too much time has passed for that. A thriving market needs to account for cost inflations the agricultural sector has faced since the trade disruption.

Trump’s agreement with Beijing promises a dramatic and dubious increase of U.S. agricultural products flowing into China. Under Phase 1 of the deal, China has vowed to increase spending on agricultural products to a total of about $US40 billion over the next two years.

There is palpable skepticism surrounding this deal. Many believe this will do little to allay tensions between the U.S. and Beijing, and the few who understand China doubt its ability to fulfill their Phase 1 pledge.

Trump is buying the loyalty of U.S. farmers and playing a game in which winning is anchored on the assumption that a majority of voters have poor memories, a clouded, stubborn Old Testament-commitment to foreign policy and troll-like disdain for anything that requires thinking or long-term strategies.

Purchasing loyalties is a common political manoeuvre and not really one worth noting, save for the principle behind it and its relevance to what’s going on in Canadian agriculture.

“If you want to know who controls you, look at who you are not allowed to criticize,” is a quote from 18th Century Enlightenment writer François-Marie d’Arouet, known in universities as Voltaire. The quote has timeless relevance.

In Canada, to a large degree U.S. agricultural issues are ours, too. Very few commodities in Canada have strong, well-established markets untethered to the erratic ebbs and flows of the United States.

Pulses, however, have a degree of independence in the marketplace. They’re healthy, inexpensive and Canada has established its own global customers.

Plant-based protein food companies are using pulses and other crops to create products for a marketplace that has demonstrated having an appetite for meat alternatives.

Plant-based foods made to resemble meat are still a divisive topic in agriculture, and it comes down to loyalties. The livestock industry feels threatened and many farmers are loyal to them and share their disdain for this trend.

It’s not a rational position. People can eat what they want to eat and farmers grow the crops that go into plant-based burgers. It comes down to loyalties, values and gut feelings.

Loyalty has become a coveted commodity in the agricultural sector. Sometimes it is purchased, like what Trump is attempting to do in the U.S. Sometimes, it’s acquired through other means. The organic industry has a loyal consumer base they acquired through virtue-signalling. An example of virtue-signalling in the food space is when companies slap labels on their products that connect your desire to do the right thing with the purchase of whatever they are trying to sell you. It’s effective.

Food labeling and the lack of regulatory framework around what can and can’t be said on the items we purchase have created a boundless environment for the acquisition of consumer loyalties.

Nothing should be held above reproach. We should be critical of our politicians. We should be critical of the companies whose products we purchase, and we should be critical of the industries we’re a part of.

Our loyalties should not be for sale, neither should a virtuous phrase on a package be enough to earn it. Loyalty should be reserved for fellow human beings.

About the author

Columnist

Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]

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