Sen. Joni Ernst remains confident President Donald Trump can negotiate long-term trade agreements that will benefit Iowa, but it’s the short-term consequences of an escalating trade war that worry her.
“I’m frustrated things aren’t moving quicker,” Ernst said Thursday about Trump’s threats of tariffs that could diminish the export of Iowa agricultural commodities and manufactured goods.
“This is really hurting farmers and ranchers” as well as manufacturers who are paying higher steel prices, Ernst said, adding that it’s important to give the president time to implement trade policy.
“While we have all of these trade deals up in the air, we need optimism moving forward that deals are going to get done,” the Iowa Republican told reporters on a conference call. “I want to see action on it. I want to see that we do have NAFTA done this year. I want to see that we are working on the (European Union) and getting our goods over there.”
Earlier this week, Ernst and the other members of the Iowa congressional delegation wrote the president expressing concern that retaliatory tariffs will harm Iowa’s farmers.
“Mr. President, these tariffs have real consequences on states like Iowa, rural communities across the nation and on America’s farms,” they wrote. “We encourage you to act expeditiously to save our rural economies.”
The talk of tariffs and a trade war “is putting the livelihood of the rural community in the crosshairs,” Ernst said.
She described Trump’s negotiating style as “unusual” and “not the preferable way for Joni Ernst.”
“I would prefer that we take up a trade deal, we get that trade deal done and move on to the next, but that’s not the approach this administration is taking,” she said.
However, the president has been accessible and has listened to the Iowa delegation’s concerns, according to Ernst.
In a White House meeting, Trump told her he expects to reach agreement with Canada and Mexico on NAFTA before this fall.
Mexico seems more eager than Canada to reach an agreement, so Ernst and other senators urged Trump to sign a bilateral trade pact with Mexico if a three-way agreement is not possible.
“I don’t want to undercut and take away any leverage he might have in the trade space,” she said. “He feels we will come out ahead, but feeling that and actually seeing results are two separate things.”
Based on a recent conversation with Terry Branstad, former Iowa governor and now U.S. ambassador to China, Ernst said settling trade differences with China “will be a much longer haul” than with the EU, Canada and Mexico.
“We’ve seen some very bad actions out of China,” she said, referring to theft of intellectual property, reverse engineering of American-made products and attempts to steal Iowa seed corn. “China is so much more complicated.”
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