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Soybeans, a crop almost exclusively produced by farmers in the GOP's rural base who voted overwhelmingly for President Trump in the 2016 election, are a key inclusion on China's list of 106 U.S. products that will be subject to retaliatory tariffs.

Expand chart
Data: Department of Agriculture; Map: Chris Canipe/Axios

The bottom line: In 2016, soybeans accounted for 12% of U.S. exports to China, per MIT's data. And American farmers ramped up production of soybeans in part because the Chinese were buying in such massive quantities. Now, that source of revenue is in jeopardy.

The backdrop...

  • Politically-motivated tariff retaliation isn't new, Thomas Duesterberg of the Hudson Institute tells Axios. "The Europeans have become experts at that. Everybody's learning from them," he says.
  • When then-President Bush announced steel tariffs in 2002, the European Union threatened retaliation aimed at Florida, a sensitive state for Bush. Now, the Chinese are using moves against U.S. agricultural products and manufactured goods, such as automobiles and planes, to hit Trump's core voters.
  • Kirk Leeds, CEO of the Iowa Soybean Association told the Des Moines Register: Tariffs create "a lot of market disruption at a time when farmers can't afford any disruptions ... For farmers on the edge, this could be very detrimental."

Yes, but...

  • Trump is fulfilling a campaign promise — that he'd be tough on China — made to industrial workers in his base. And "there are a lot more of those people than there are farmers ... That's probably the political calculus that Trump is employing here," says Duesterberg.
  • And the farming community has ways of seeking recourse, he says. Many American farmers stopped growing corn and wheat in favor of soybeans as the Chinese market grew, and they have the option of switching back.
  • Farmers are also protected by price floors on agricultural goods — a market advantage industrial workers don't have. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue tweeted: "The president has assured me he won't let our farmers bear the brunt of China's retaliation."
  • "You've also got to understand that Trump is going to get support from the other side of the aisle on this ... That mutes the damage to him to a certain extent," according to Duesterberg.

Go deeper

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker
Updated 4 hours ago - Economy & Business

Janet Yellen co-opts Reaganomics phrase for new Davos speech

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at a speech this week. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The U.S. needs to focus on increasing its productive potential, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told world leaders Friday, calling for what she terms "modern supply side economics."

Why it matters: She co-opted a phrase traditionally used by political conservatives to describe low-tax and deregulatory policies — and framed the Biden administration's initiatives as the best path forward to achieve greater national prosperity.