Grassley among GOP senators pressing Trump on NAFTA

Panel says it told president trade deal is 'vital' for jobs

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is surrounded by reporters as he heads from the Senate Subway to the Senate Floor for a vote during the second day of hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee for Neil Gorsuch to become an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court in the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Mar. 21, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is surrounded by reporters as he heads from the Senate Subway to the Senate Floor for a vote during the second day of hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee for Neil Gorsuch to become an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court in the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Mar. 21, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

With Iowa’s agriculture economy in the balance, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley spent a chunk of Wednesday working to ensure the preservation of a key trade agreement.

Grassley was among a group of senators who met with and discussed trade policy with President Donald Trump.

Grassley said before the meeting he planned to use the opportunity to encourage Trump to preserve elements of the North American Free Trade Agreement that benefit U.S. farmers.

In a statement after the meeting, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch said Republican members of the panel told Trump that preserving NAFTA was “vital” for U.S. jobs and that weakening the agreement with Canada and Mexico would “jeopardize American economic growth.”

“We committed to working with the president to improve and modernize the agreement,” Hatch said.

Earlier Wednesday, Grassley discussed trade policy with Iowa agricultural leaders in a telephone conference call.

Grassley told the ag leaders he has been pressing the administration to be careful when negotiating NAFTA to not disrupt the U.S. and Iowa ag economies.

Grassley said he recently urged caution to the president’s top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, and to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

“We’ve had a lot of opportunities to put in our oar, to tell people close to the president that the president is going to hurt agriculture if he pulled out of NAFTA,” he said.

On the call, five Iowa ag leaders thanked Grassley for his advocacy and encouraged him to continue pressing the administration.

Ed Wiederstein, an Iowa farmer and former president of the Iowa Farm Bureau, said withdrawing from NAFTA would be devastating to the state’s ag producers at a time when crop prices already are low.

“If this trade agreement would go away, man, a lot of the profit is going to go away,” Wiederstein said. “It’s just super important that we maintain NAFTA.”

While running for president in 2016, Trump regularly said he would renegotiate many of the trade deals in which the United States participates, or withdraw from the deals altogether.

Grassley said while he can make no guarantees, he thinks Trump’s view on NAFTA is softening.

“I have felt some moderation of the president’s position since he was a candidate,” Grassley said. “I sense that it’s getting through to him how bad it would be to pull out of NAFTA.”

Last month, Iowa’s other Republican senator, Joni Ernst, told the Iowa Corn Growers Association she was among a small group that met with Trump before Christmas. She told the association she thought Trump was reassessing his position on NAFTA.

Reuters contributed to this report

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