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Idaho Director Of Agriculture Weighs In On Trump's Proposed Aid For Farmers

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

After weeks of imposing new tariffs, President Trump says he has a trade deal. It's with the European Union. President Trump and EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker announced that the two will work towards zero tariffs, increased U.S. energy exports and reforms to the World Trade Organization. The agreement comes as tensions grow between the Trump administration and Republicans in rural states who are concerned about how the tariffs will affect farmers.

Celia Gould is the Idaho director of agriculture. And she joins us now to talk about how her state has been affected by the president's trade policies. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

CELIA GOULD: Thank you very much. I appreciate you calling.

SHAPIRO: In a moment, I want to get your reaction to this new announcement with the EU. But first, how have people in Idaho been affected by the tariffs that have been announced so far?

GOULD: Well, these trade tensions are coming at a really difficult time for our farmers and ranchers in Idaho, as in the rest of the United States. Commodity prices are at a 12-year low, and labor is nearly impossible to find. So - but, you know, even in - with some of the challenges we face, Idaho is producing more food than ever. And so we definitely need to be able to trade.

SHAPIRO: And so what's happening to farmers as a result of these tariffs, and the low prices and the high production that you're describing?

GOULD: Well, it affects the pocketbook at the end of the day. And production prices continue to increase. And the - they just are not being able to meet their obligations and - because the margin is not there.

SHAPIRO: Yesterday, the White House announced a $12 billion bailout for farmers. Are people hopeful that that could make a difference?

GOULD: There's some hope, obviously, that the mitigation package can help and provide some temporary relief. I have great confidence in Secretary Perdue and his team, and I know USDA is listening and trying to address the concerns of U.S. agriculture and trade. But there are a lot of questions that need to be answered before we understand exactly what that relief is going to be seen as and what the details are.

SHAPIRO: Secretary Perdue is Sonny Perdue, the agriculture secretary. You told the Spokesman-Review newspaper it's not just dollars lost. It's relationships lost, and they are very hard to get back. What do you mean by that?

GOULD: In the state of Idaho, as in other states, we have spent a lot of time and effort in our market relationships. We do governor's trade missions. We do inbound and outbound missions. Some of the trade partners, our distributors and the folks that buy our products are third, fourth generations. They're longstanding partners. They've come to know us as a reliable partner for high-quality food products. So once that's lost, it's very difficult to be seen as a reliable partner again. So we fear that.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. And in our last minute, I know you haven't had time to (laughter) look over the details. The announcement just came out this afternoon. But what do you make of this new agreement with the European Commission?

GOULD: Well, I certainly welcome all trade opportunities out there. For Idaho specifically, they're a much smaller market. They produce a lot of the same commodities that we do. And, of course, distance remains a factor. We look more at Canada, Mexico and Southeast Asia, as they tend to be the bigger drivers in our export market.

SHAPIRO: So it sounds like you're hopeful, but you're not necessarily expecting this to solve all the problems Idaho farmers are facing right now.

GOULD: Yes, it won't by any stretch solve the problems of Idaho farmers.

SHAPIRO: Celia Gould, thank you so much for speaking with us.

GOULD: Absolutely. Thank you for your time.

SHAPIRO: She's the director of agriculture for the state of Idaho. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.