Protectionism? Not!


How in the world did we allow political pundits to change the narrative regarding whether or not it’s good to protect the American people, American jobs, American manufacturing, and American food production?

This should be a no-brainer – the role of government should be to protect all of the above, and for over 200 years, that’s what America did and that’s why the United States was once the undisputed food producer and economic powerhouse the world over.

But something happened on the way home from the grocery store. Some bright but misguided economist figured that someone, somewhere could produce food more efficiently in some foreign land, and America would be better off to source their food from there…rather than from here.

And that’s exactly what misinformed decision makers set out to do. But first they had to vilify what America had been doing to achieve its unprecedented strength – industrially, militarily, and in food self-sufficiency. They contextually changed protecting America and her assets into something grotesque. They said protecting America’s assets was an antiquated and unnecessary goal and they vilified such efforts with the term “protectionism.”

And there went our tariffs – the economic tool America was built upon. You see tariffs were the economic tool that America used for over two centuries to accomplish a two-fold and mutually inclusive objective: First to ensure that critical domestic industries could flourish and compete with imported goods and services on a level playing field; and second, to collect sufficient revenues from those who financially benefit from importing goods and services into the United States.

Importantly, where once the U.S. relied heavily on tariff revenues from profiting importers to fund much of government, now the U.S. relies more heavily on its citizens to fund much of government. And now you know why your income taxes are so high.      

So, the misguided decision makers effectively vilified the notion that America should protect herself and her assets with the negatively charged term “protectionism,” and it singled out tariffs as protectionism’s instrument of choice.

So, what was the result?

Well, focusing just on food, the U.S. Department of Agriculture data show that the United States became a net importer of food in 2019 and between 2021 and 2022 the United States’ negative trade balance in food nearly doubled, from $3.4 billion to $6 billion.

So, ask yourself this question: If food imports were to be even temporarily curtailed due to geopolitical events, climate events, or any other reason, do you think there will be shortages of certain foods, if not many foods, at your local grocery store?

Can everyone comprehend that food production is a national security issue? That the United States has traversed a dangerous path that now threatens our food security?

Clearly, if Congress doesn’t intervene to reverse our present course our national food security will be weakened.

So how does Congress reverse this deplorable trend?  Well, the answer is to resume doing what we know worked to ensure the protection of our critical industries, and that means we need to rethink the importance of tariffs and tariff rate quotas as legitimate economic tools needed to ensure the viability of our domestic industries, ensure our domestic industries are actually competing on a level playing field, and to protect our food security.

So now let’s jump from the general to the specific: Tariffs were eliminated for imports of lamb from Australia, and they remain negligible for lamb imports from New Zealand. As a result, imports have skyrocketed and have captured a whopping 74% of the domestic lamb market. If those imports were curtailed for any reason, there’s no way on God’s green earth that the U.S. sheep industry could anymore satisfy America’s appetite for lamb, meaning the domestic industry could not meet America’s protein needs that are now provided by lamb.

To reverse this threat to our food security, the U.S. sheep industry must be given some space to rebuild domestic sheep production. It can’t do that without tariffs, which would ensure that imported lamb would hit the domestic market as if it were produced under the United States’ higher production standards; or without a tariff rate quota that would limit the amount of lamb that could be imported without tariffs, but once a predetermined volume had been exceeded, the higher, over quota tariffs would apply to significantly slow the flow of industry-damaging imports.

We have to start somewhere, so let’s start here. Call your members of Congress and urge them to protect the U.S. sheep industry with tariffs to preserve our national food security interests.

Yes, R-CALF USA is proposing that our government protect our domestic sheep farmers and ranchers. And, yes, it’s about time that somebody did.

CALF USA’s weekly opinion/commentary educates and informs both consumers and producers about timely issues important to the U.S. cattle and sheep industries and rural America.