BETTENDORFT — Republican congressional candidate Christopher Peters says the United States needed to get tough with China, but he raised objections Tuesday to the Trump administration’s approach to trade policy, especially with allies, saying the tariffs the White House has deployed are a “blunt instrument.”
Peters was in Bettendorf on Tuesday speaking to about 75 people at the Bettendorf Business Network’s First Tuesday event.
Peters said most business people he speaks with are willing to give President Donald Trump some space to negotiate better trade deals. And he said in an interview afterward the president’s approach “has brought Mexico to the bargaining table.”
However, he said he would have done things differently.
“I agree we want freer trade,” he said, but the better way would have been to negotiate directly with trading partners and jointly lower trade barriers. Tariffs, he said, are “not a tool of finesse.”
“I think that we should have been negotiated harder with China. China was the actor that I think deserved more of a heavy hand, but the EU (European Union), Canada and Mexico, I don’t think that falls in that category,” he said. “Tariffs would not have been the tool I personally would have used.”
Peters said Trump had not been getting good advice from Peter Navarro, a top trade adviser, who he noted has previously been registered as a Democrat. “He’s been agitating for protectionist trade policies” for years, Peters said.
Republicans have historically opposed the use of tariffs. But the Trump administration has changed things.
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Peters, a Coralville surgeon, is running against Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, for the 2nd District seat. This is Peters’ second challenge to Loebsack. The Democrat from Iowa City defeated Peters in 2016.
Peters said he believes in free markets, and that he would encourage the president to rescind the tariffs, particularly on friendly countries.
Trump has frequently said tariffs are a useful tool in trade disputes, and he imposed levies on steel and aluminum imports earlier this summer. He’s also put in place tariffs on a range of Chinese imports.
The tariffs against China led to retaliation against American farm products, which has caused prices to decline. Mexico also has retaliated against corn and pork.
The administration also has called for a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Act with Mexico and Canada. Last week, the White House announced a preliminary deal with Mexico.
In addition to trade, Peters told the Bettendorf group that Congress is at “a tipping point” and that it needs people who can forge consensus. He said that, as a surgeon, he has the background to bring people together toward a common goal.