Government

Iowa congressional delegation calls on Trump to avoid trade war

Four House and two Senate members: 'These tariffs are taxes Iowa families cannot afford'

(File photo) U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) (from left) answers a question as U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) looks on at the Cedar Rapids Country Club in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
(File photo) U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) (from left) answers a question as U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) looks on at the Cedar Rapids Country Club in Cedar Rapids on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The same day that a national political journal reported on Iowa Republicans’ support for President Donald Trump despite rising tensions and the threat of a trade war, 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,” the four House and two Senate members wrote to the president. “We encourage you to act expeditiously to save our rural economies.”

The letter was sent to the White House the same day Politico reported that the concerns expressed by the congressional delegation weren’t on display at the Republican Party of Iowa’s recent state convention when delegates were asked whether they supported the president.

“In an exuberant display of unity, more than 1,100 delegates sprang to their feet, whistling, cheering and offering prolonged applause,” according to Politico.

The letter follows an earlier warning from Republican Reps. Rod Blum, David Young and Steve King, and Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack, and GOP Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst to the president that agriculture would be the first industry to be hurt in a trade dispute. Markets for soybeans, corn and pork are trading significantly lower than before the president started imposing tariffs.

In the recent letter, the delegation said it remained concerned about the impacts of retaliatory tariffs by major trading partners on Iowa agriculture.

“We strongly urge you to quickly resolve our trade differences and avoid a trade war,” they said.

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The goal, according to Ernst’s office, is for the president to finalize trade deals “so that these tariffs don’t go into effect.”

Trump has consistently defended the use of the tariffs to level the playing field for United States exporters, including farmers. Recently he demanded in a social media post that nations with “artificial trade barriers and tariffs” remove them “or be met with more than reciprocity from the U.S.A.”

“Trade must be fair and no longer a one-way street,” he said on Twitter.

In pleading Iowa’s case, the members of Congress said farmers are experiencing a five-year, 52 percent downturn in the agricultural economy.

“These tariffs are taxes Iowa families cannot afford,” they wrote.

Loebsack signed on to the letter because he’s heard from farmers and business owners about the possible negative effects of a trade war, spokesman Joe Hand said.

“Dave remains very concerned that the tit-for-tat trade actions put Iowans at risk and could have a massive negative economic impact,” Hand said.

Soybean futures are trading at their lowest in nine years at less than $9 a bushel. Corn prices are down 4 percent from last year and pork futures are off by as much as $18 per animal.

“Farmers are facing tight margins and low commodity prices, which makes the latest tariffs catastrophic for Iowa’s economy,” they said.

The senators and representatives went on to say Iowa:

— ranks second in the nation for agricultural exports.

— is first in the nation in pork, $2.0 billion, corn, $1.75 billion, and feed grain, $1.32 billion.

— second in soybean exports, $3.11 billion.

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Canada, Mexico, and China are top destinations for Iowa pork, soybeans, corn, and beef. China is one of the world’s fastest-growing beef import markets and recently began buying American beef again last year. In the first six months after the ban was lifted, China purchased $31 million of U.S. beef and USDA estimates over 1 million tons will be sent to China in 2018. The U.S. exported $24.1 billion worth of agricultural products to China in 2017.

“Mr. President, these tariffs have real consequences on states like Iowa, rural communities across the nation, and on America’s farms,” the delegation wrote. “We encourage you to act expeditiously to save our rural economies.

It remains to be seen what impact the more recent letter will have, but Loebsack is hopeful that the president “will listen to Iowa’s farmers and realize the damaging impact the tariffs could have on Iowa’s economy.”

Separately, Loebsack has called on the Trump administration to exempt Canada from tariffs that were imposed June 1. Canada, Iowa’s largest trading partner, has indicated it will levy tariffs worth $12.8 billion on goods including Iowa-produced agricultural and manufactured good. In 2017, Iowa sent more than $4 billion worth of products, including $1.4 billion in agricultural goods, to Canada. That’s about 30 percent of Iowa’s international trade.

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

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