Government

Returning from China, Grassley talks trade and tariffs

He visited Asia as tariff tensions mount with the U.S.

(File photo) Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) talks with reporters in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Mar. 21, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
(File photo) Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) talks with reporters in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, Mar. 21, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

“Time will tell” whether tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump will benefit or hurt Iowa and the United States, Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said Tuesday.

“All I can say is maybe in one respect, maybe Trump is making some progress because in the case of steel tariffs on South Korea, ... they weren’t letting very many of our cars into South Korea and they have agreed to let more cars into South Korea. Maybe it might work, but I’m very cautious,” Grassley, Iowa’s senior U.S. senator, said on a conference call with reporters.

“I would be doing everything that I can to see that things don’t hurt agriculture in the United States generally, but specifically Iowa.”

Grassley held the call after he returned from a trip to Asia with four other U.S. senators. The trip took place as tensions over trade rise between the United States and China.

On Monday, China imposed new tariffs on 128 U.S.-made goods, including pork, fruit and modified ethanol. China said the tariffs were in response to a 25 percent duty Trump placed on foreign steel and aluminum coming into the United States.

Grassley also pushed back against the idea that he has not expressed reservations about the potential effect of tariffs on Iowa farmers. He pointed to various meetings he’s had with Trump and White House trade officials during the last year.

“We’ve had discussions with them on trade for a long period of time expressing our views, and we’re still going to continue to express our views. When Iowans or the country as a whole are hurt as a result of these trade policies, we’re going to speak out against them and fight for our interests,” Grassley said.

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“On the other hand, when the president has the authority under the law that he does, passed in the Kennedy administration in 1963, to impose these tariffs for national security reasons, about the only thing Congress can do to send a real strong message is to change the law.”

Recently imposed tariffs may not be the last from either side. The Trump administration released a list Tuesday of Chinese-made products to impose tariffs on, Bloomberg reported. China has threatened more retaliation.

The back-and-forth has sparked concern that China could target soybeans produced in the United States, a particular concern for Iowa as it is the nation’s second-largest soybean producer.

“When you’ve got one in four rows of Iowa soybeans heading to China, any sort of disruption in the market is really a cause for concern,” Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig said at a meeting with The Gazette last week.

Grassley said the Chinese officials he met with did not specifically mention soybeans as a target.

“They just simply said that if there is a filing with the (World Trade Organization) and the WTO says that China is violating the rules, they indicated in a very general way that there would be retaliation. They didn’t mention soybeans or any other product, just a general reaction on the part of their government,” he said.

Iowa’s leaders, including its governor and Congressional delegation, have previously said they have concerns over how tariffs and arguments over trade could hurt Iowa. In addition to being a top soybean producer, Iowa is the nation’s top producer of pork, corn, eggs and ethanol. It also is home to a number of agricultural equipment makers, which rely on steel to build their machinery.

“We’re hopeful the administration and the Chinese can work together. This is an important trading partner for us, we need to make sure this gets done right and we can resolve some of these issues, but we also want to make sure we can resolve this as quickly as possible while minimizing the disruption because our markets react in real-time,” Naig said last week.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; matthew.patane@thegazette.com

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