California depends on trade, so what happens under a Trump presidency?

Since the election, there’s been a lot of talk about the impact that a Trump Administration could have on everything from civil rights to foreign policy to health care. But there’s also the issue of trade. Donald Trump took some very tough stands during the presidential campaign on trade deals and the country’s trading partner.

Trade is a driving force in California’s economy. To get a sense of the impact on California, KCRW’s Chery Glaser talked to Dale Kasler, who covers business for the Sacramento Bee. She asked him what kind of industries in California could be affected if president-elect Trump moves ahead with a crackdown on trading partners:

Dale Kasler: Well, certainly the computer industry, the electronics industry exports a lot of chips and other products, components, and so on to places like Mexico. There’s a drone industry in Mexico, just over the border from San Diego and a lot of their components are made in California. And then, of course, agriculture, which really finds itself in an interesting situation, because Donald Trump would tend to be very sympathetic to farmers when it comes to things like water and environmental regulations; but they are rather scared about what he said about international trade and what he said about immigration. California farming really relies heavily on undocumented labor from Mexico and Central America, and California farming relies very heavily on exports.A big chunk, nearly half of what we grow here is sold overseas, whether it’s almonds or wine or what have you.

KCRW: A lot of the issues of trade, the debate over trade during the presidential elections tended to focus on products, whether you are talking about electronic components, what have you, but there is also the immigration issue, as you mentioned, both for agriculture, but also for  the high tech industry.

DK: Right, the H1B visas are kind of a stock and trade in Silicon Valley.

KCRW: These are visas for people who are highly skilled — basically, the idea is, we don’t have enough people with those skills in this country, right? 

DK: Exactly. Now, there’s a pretty good chance that when Donald Trump was talking about putting a halt or putting the brakes on immigration he was not talking about those people, but, nevertheless, it made people in Silicon Valley very nervous. By and large, Silicon Valley was very strong and in Clinton’s corner during this election, and they are not happy at all about the Trump election. You know, there’s nothing more global, if you will, than Silicon Valley, and anything that would stop the flow of commerce and stop the flow of labor makes them extremely nervous.

KCRW: When we talk about immigrant labor in the agriculture industry and the high tech industry, how big a portion of the work force is it? Are we talking about 10 percent, that if that were to be slowed down that it would be an issue, but not sort of world ending or are we talking it being significantly bigger than that?

DK: I know that in agriculture it’s been estimated that half of the farm labor in California is undocumented immigrants. So, you’re talking about a huge number.

KCRW:  So we’re talking about thousands and thousands of acres, millions of acres, perhaps, where crops could potentially, in the worst case scenario, go unpicked, unharvested.

DK: I think that is the worst case scenario. It’s hard to imagine, but yes.

KCRW: There are also, in California, facilities and organizations, which are actively involved in carrying out international trade. I mean, California is home to a number of major ports, the harbors here in L.A. and Los Angeles combined are the largest in the country. What are the potential ramifications for folks like that?

DK: That’s very important. It’s been estimated that half a million Californians depend on international trade in some form or another, whether they work at the ports in Long Beach or Oakland, or they work at the border crossings where the trucks come through. So, people make a living off of imports as well as the exports in California, a lot of people.

KCRW: And certainly some of these folks, like longshore workers, these are our highly paid jobs, some of them.

DK: Yes. Many of these people belong to the union and they make a good living. It’s among those last of the good blue collar jobs in this country, ironically. Even though it’s been argued that sometimes international trade hurts our manufacturing sector. And it’s worth pointing out that California’s leading trading partner is Mexico. Mexico, in the last three months, purchased 16 percent of California’s exports. Number three is China. China takes nearly ten percent of California’s exports. I know that we tend to think of international trade or globalization as just moving one way, as just being a source of imports, but it does cut both ways.