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Low returns for Northwest farmers may reflect a larger trends in international policy

A farmer operates a tractor and spray rig to spread herbicide in a wheat stubble field in the Reardan area Monday, May 9, 2011. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
A farmer operates a tractor and spray rig to spread herbicide in a wheat stubble field in the Reardan area Monday, May 9, 2011. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

In the past week, farmers in the Northwest have watched futures prices for crops like wheat, soy and corn dip to a concerning low.

“You can attribute it to pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership or tariffs,” said Sam White, chief operating officer of Pacific Northwest Farmers Cooperative. “It’s a multitude of things.”

The price drop may be caused by challenges in trade agreements and tariffs, said Bill Smith, chair of international studies at the University of Idaho. And it’s part of a larger trend by the U.S. to disengage from global organizations.

Futures prices fell from their peak in late May, with wheat futures, which were originally at $5.70 a bushel, dropping to $4.99, White said.

“You can have an opinion on tariffs one way or another,” he said. “(But) our farmers are definitely concerned.”

Future crop prices for farmers in the Northwest may also demonstrate, on a small scale, the effects of America’s move away from international engagement, Smith said.

That step back, he said, hasn’t been great for international perception of the U.S.

“(America) sees all of its decisions as separate decisions,” Smith said. “The rest of the world sees them as connected.”

Those include moves that affect farmers directly, like trade agreements or tariffs, but also actions like the announcement Tuesday that the U.S. will withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council.

That may not affect farmers directly but does have something in common with many of the same policies that do, Smith said. It further distances the U.S. from the rest of the globe.

For those who view involvement in international affairs as a danger to U.S. independence, the move could be seen as good. But an extreme America-first attitude also has the potential to damage the U.S. reputation abroad, said Majid Sharifi, director of international affairs at Eastern Washington University.

He said that is especially the case for America’s reputation as a flagship for human rights protection.

“(If you pull out of the council,) you can’t advertise yourself as the defender of human rights,” he said.

That means the U.S. loses some of its “soft power,” he said – the image for itself as a democratic, humanitarian leader.

“The U.S. is a global power, and has a global image,” Sharifi said. “Discrediting that global image is going to have an impact.”

There are valid criticisms of the Human Rights Council, Smith said. Human rights abusers have, on multiple occasions, been elected to the council. And Israel is targeted more often than other countries, a point of criticism for many in the U.S. But, he said, “when we were not on the council, there were many more.”

The decision may inadvertently reduce the global influence the U.S. currently holds, Sharifi said.

“The U.S. wants them to do what it wants to do,” he said. “It becomes a leader without followers.”

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