Thursday, May 04, 2017

Is Trump Turning Lemons Into Hotels?

The LA Times had a story yesterday about the lifting of a 16 year old ban on lemons from the north of Argentina.
“We were completely blindsided,” said Joel Nelsen, president of the California Citrus Mutual, an industry advocacy group. “They just flat-out ignored us, and that’s completely unacceptable.”
That doesn't sound like the Trump who was going to protect American business and agriculture from unfair foreign competition.

Meanwhile, a November CNN Money piece talked about Trump and his daughter's post election phone call with the president of Argentina.
"The question is whether Donald Trump and his children are using their newly found political power to push the deal across the finish line. It would raise questions of yet another conflict of interest between Trump's business empire and the White House.
Trump spoke to Argentina's president, Mauricio Macri, on November 14 and Ivanka Trump also briefly came on the call, according to Macri's spokesperson.
The two go back a long way. Macri has a similar background -- his father was a billionaire real estate developer, and the Macri family did a real estate deal with Trump in New York in the 1980s. Macri and Trump were friends at the time, and Macri has known Ivanka since she was a kid."
But maybe we shouldn't jump to conclusions so fast.

The LA Times article on the lemons goes on to say:
"In December, President Obama’s administration said it would lift the ban, which had been imposed after complaints by producers in California that the Argentine lemons carried diseases.
But a month later, Trump’s administration issued a 60-day stay on the decision. That stay had been extended, stalling the return of imports from one of the world’s top lemon producers to its largest market."

So this was something that was already decided by Obama, and Trump stopped it for two months.  OK, at this point, Trump is going against Macri's interests and is with the lemon farmers.  Then it goes on:
“We [the lemon growers] disagreed with the Obama administration, but this rule now belongs to the Trump administration and it flies in the face of the administration’s priorities, which are to protect domestic agriculture, U.S. businesses and U.S. jobs,” Nelsen said. [Nelsen is the spokesperson for the lemon growers]
He [Nelsen] also said serious questions remain about the hazard posed by pests that could hitch a ride on Argentine fruit and damage U.S. groves.
The article mentions that we get lemons from Mexico and Chile.  Do they have better pest inspection and control than Argentina?  Or is this just 'fake news' from the California lemon industry to stop a competitor?  Good questions to pursue.

The CNN article, further down, also raises questions about the relationship between Macri and Trump.
"The two haven't always been close though. Macri threw his support behind Hillary Clinton in September."

So we don't really know all the details and motivations.  It could be that Trump held up Obama's change of policy to retaliate against Macri for supporting Clinton (who, like everyone else at that time, thought she would win.)  And now perhaps they have made up and part of the negotiations included lifting the lemon ban in exchange for hotel approval.  We don't know.

This is why so many of us are angry that Trump ignores legal and ethical standards that he  should divest his business interests and that his kids play such a big role in the business and the administration.

Even if he did everything totally above board - something that is hard to picture - there would still always be the appearance of conflict of interest, and the appearance that Trump is using the presidency to improve his business.

But Trump rejects that.  The November CNN piece ends with this quote from Trump:
"Prior to the election, it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world. Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!"
Trump seems to think he can badmouth anyone, but if anyone turns the tables, it's a lie.  No matter what the real motivations for the lifting of the lemon ban, this man is seriously ill.

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