Tag-team trade war skeptics Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran kept up rolling criticism Friday of a protectionist agenda unraveling free trade policies and eliciting retaliatory actions harmful to Kansas’ crop and livestock exporters.
Roberts, a Republican who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, led a hearing that chewed on the issue like a hungry southwestern corn borer.
“I hear from producers across the agriculture industry, and across our food value chain, about how trade policies impact their prices, decisions and livelihoods,” Roberts said. “On top of already low prices, the agriculture sector has seen immediate negative impacts as a result of retaliatory trade actions.”
Tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump in theory would make U.S.-made goods less expensive than imported goods, but Roberts said trade conflict was poised to undermine U.S. market access in countries that have been solid consumers of American agriculture exports.
In the early 1990s, Roberts said, he worked to build farm exports by generating enthusiasm for the new North America Free Trade Agreement. Since NAFTA went into force, the value of U.S. exports to Canada has grown 271 percent and to Mexico by 305 percent. From 1994 to 2017, U.S. agriculture exports increased from $43 billion to $138 billion.
“Simply put,” Roberts said, “the entire food and agriculture value chain relies on trade.”
Moran, a Republican who cut his teeth in Congress representing the farming- and ranching-dense 1st District, said Kansans struggling with bottom-line implications of weak commodity and beef prices, or recovering from record wildfires, were now subjected to instability of global food markets.
“The United States has engaged itself in a trade war that I’m not convinced anyone can win,” Moran said. “Kansans are feeling the effects of recently imposed tariffs.”
He said $361 million of Kansas exports were being targeted in the trade rift, including soybean and sorghum to China and beef and corn to Mexico.
With 95 percent of consumers living outside the U.S., he said, there were consequences to artificial limits on the ability of Kansas producers to move food and fiber around the world.
Moran said he took a photograph of a large pile of grain on the ground in Kensington. He shared the image with Trump at a White House meeting to demonstrate how access to markets was necessary to sell Kansas commodities. He showed the image to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
“The reaction has been the same: ‘How do we fix this?’ First and foremost, we must have a solid path toward an end result in our trade negotiations with China. We cannot escalate a fight between a significant purchaser of what we produce in Kansas with no real end goal,” Moran said.
He said the U.S. scuffle with China — a battle of the world’s largest economies — had led to tit-for-tat tariffs on $50 billion worth of goods and promises to go much deeper. The objective with China should be enforcement of trade rules, the senator said, not a war on trade.
“I also believe the responsible way forward is to work with our global partners, rather than to isolate ourselves,” Moran said.
In 2016, Trump won the presidency partly on the strength of pledges to grapple with unfair trade practices and to renegotiate agreements to generate domestic jobs. His won bipartisan support for criticism of intellectual property theft by companies in China, but earned bipartisan rebukes for a trade conflict threatening to farmers and the larger U.S. economy.
Moran said the focus ought to be on improving NAFTA and re-engaging on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump pulled out of last year.
Kansas sells more aerospace parts and products to Canada than any other country and more food and commodities to Mexico than elsewhere, he said.
“I recently met with Mexican officials who indicated that Mexico has already found suppliers outside of the U.S. for 80 percent of the commodities it typically receives from American producers,” Moran said.