Government

Despite frustrations, Grassley, Ernst back president on Chinese trade talks

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst answers a question as U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley looks on during a press availability at the Cedar Rapids Country Club in Cedar Rapids in 2016. (The Gazette)
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst answers a question as U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley looks on during a press availability at the Cedar Rapids Country Club in Cedar Rapids in 2016. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — Iowa’s Republican senators are growing frustrated with the lack of progress on U.S.-China trade negotiations, but they’re sticking by President Donald Trump’s hard line approach to protecting American interests.

“Yeah, we’re all frustrated with this,” Sen. Joni Ernst said ahead of the trade talks that resumed Thursday despite the president’s threatened increase in tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods.

“But we’re not going to sign a deal when (the Chinese) are walking back on some of the key components of the trade deal, which is the theft of intellectual property, the forced technology transfers. We can’t allow them to do that.

Sen. Chuck Grassley was optimistic that about 90 percent of a deal had been reached until reading reports suggesting the Chinese were backing away from what had been agreed in the previous round of negotiations.

If the Chinese aren’t negotiating in good faith, “you either stop negotiating or do what you can to get their attention,” he said. “So I happen to sympathize with the president’s waning patience with the Chinese.”

Ernst acknowledged that the retaliatory tariffs imposed by China have hurt Iowa industries and farmers, but defended U.S. tariffs because “China is a bad actor.”

“We need to stand up against China,” Ernst told reporters earlier this week. “The Chinese cannot continue to do this to us.”

Farmers she has spoken with are frustrated that the tariffs have made selling their crops and livestock harder and, generally, driven prices down. They tell her they can hang on, but if they don’t see progress, “they’re not going to be as friendly toward the administration,” Ernst said.

Trump carried Iowa in 2016 with much of his strength coming from rural counties.

She believes farmers understand that Trump’s use of tariffs has brought the Chinese to the bargaining table.

“Farmers want a good deal. They don’t want us signing off on a deal that doesn’t do any good and actually harm us,” Ernst said.

For his part, if Grassley is losing his patience with the president, it’s because of how long it is taking remove tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Mexico and Canada that Trump imposed to apply pressure during trade negotiations with those nations.

Grassley has said he wants those removed before the Senate considers approving the newly negotiated United Sates-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

“It would be a real victory for farmers, manufacturing and services if it gets through,” he said during his weekly news conference earlier this week. “It would be a good deal for Canada and Mexico, too. For the auto industry in the United States it’s a big, big deal.

“If we could get this passed, the president would have a victory. I don’t understand of the unwillingness of him to move ahead when he’s got a victory in grasp,” Grassley said.

With U.S.-China negotiations resuming in Washington, Grassley holds out hope for a comprehensive trade deal this weekend, “but I am less optimistic now than I have been.”

• Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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