New Chinese Tariffs Prompt Farm-State Senator Rebuke of Trump on Trade

Ernst brought concerns directly to Trump on Wednesday

Iowa Sens. Joni Ernst and Charles E. Grassley were critical of President Donald Trump’s trade policy on Wednesday after the latest announcement of Chinese retaliation. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Iowa Sens. Joni Ernst and Charles E. Grassley were critical of President Donald Trump’s trade policy on Wednesday after the latest announcement of Chinese retaliation. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 4, 2018 at 4:25pm

China’s announced plans for roughly $50 billion in new tariffs on U.S. goods has escalated the criticism from farm-state lawmakers of President Donald Trump’s agenda.

Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst said she talked with Trump himself Wednesday about concerns about effects on Hawkeye State producers.

“It’s my hope that the Trump administration will reconsider these tariffs and pursue policies that enhance our competitiveness, rather than reduce our access to foreign markets. The administration must pursue trade policies that make the U.S. a partner of choice for nations that may otherwise turn to less free and democratic nations for trade,” Ernst said in a statement. “I spoke with the President today directly about these issues and look forward to weighing in on these concerns as the administration enters the public comment phase for their proposed tariffs.”

The new round of announcements, which won’t immediately take effect, is highlighted by soybean tariffs that have already had an effect on prices. That was one of the focal points of the response from the Iowa Republican.

“Soybean farmers are perhaps the most vulnerable to Chinese retaliation as nearly one in every three rows of soybeans grown in the U.S. is exported to China — valued at $14 billion every year. Already, soybean prices have dropped dramatically since China’s promise to slap a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans, among other commodities and goods,” said Ernst.

Iowa’s senior senator, Charles E. Grassley, said Wednesday that he had pushed the Chinese to “rein in” the theft of U.S. intellectual property, but he also said he had warned the White House that China would retaliate against agriculture if the U.S. imposed tariffs.

“The United States should take action to defend its interests when any foreign nation isn’t playing by the rules or refuses to police itself. But farmers and ranchers shouldn’t be expected to bear the brunt of retaliation for the entire country. It’s not fair, and it doesn’t make economic sense,” Grassley said. “The Administration knew that if it imposed tariffs on Chinese goods, China would retaliate against U.S. agriculture.”

Democrats from the upper Midwest also weighed in.

“There’s no question that China has cheated its trade commitments with the United States, impacting American jobs and our economy. A better way of responding would be to look at trade enforcement to rein in China’s actions and create a level playing field for American farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers,” said Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota.

Another Senate Democrat said the trade policy developments meant farmers would be the latest addition to the list of groups put on edge by administration announcements, as well as Trump’s Twitter use. Sen. Richard J. Durbin specifically said farmers would be joining the undocumented immigrants whose status in now in flux with the president’s announced intention to end the Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals program.

“Illinois is our nation’s largest producer of soybeans, and a top producer of pork, and will feel China’s retaliation to threats of a trade war more than most. America cannot move forward in a blizzard of tweets and wild threats from this President,” the Illinois Democrat said in a statement.

Even before the latest back-and-forth, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been warning of a potential “slippery slope” in the trade standoff with China.

“Many of you are in agriculture, we are a great exporter of an agricultural product,“ the Kentucky Republican said, according to the Courier-Journal of Louisville. “I am nervous about getting into trade wars and I hope this doesn’t go too far.”

McConnell made those remarks while visiting with the Shelby County Farm Bureau at the Jeptha Creed Distillery in Shelbyville. The majority leader has spent a significant amount of time during the Senate’s two-week recess meeting with agriculture groups.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is scheduled to be in Kentucky on Thursday and Friday, making the final stops of an RV tour this week for discussions about the farm bill.

Perdue, who held a media availability at an RV tour stop in Ohio, said he had spoken with Trump about the tariffs, according to Reuters.

“He said, ‘Sonny, you can assure your farmers out there that we’re not going to allow them to be the casualties if this trade dispute escalates.’” Perdue said.