As the fallout from President Donald Trump’s trade wars with China, Canada, Mexico and the EU continue to escalate, Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., said that trade issues were at the top of the list of concerns he heard from Kansas farmers during the August recess.
"You would expect that with a new farm bill in conference committee, that would be the first thing people asked about, but this year it’s trade and tariffs that are getting the most attention," Marshall said following an Aug. 6 event in Great Bend.
The Congressman said that NAFTA is a "huge issue for all of Kansas," and that farmers are deeply concerned about efforts to renegotiate the agreement that has given them increased markets in Mexico and Canada for the past two decades.
"Since the beginning of the tariff issue, we have seen a 20% drop in commodity prices," Marshall said.
Farmers were already suffering from a cyclical downturn in commodity prices before the first tariffs were introduced in May and the trade wars have made a bad situation worse.
Marshall said he is hopeful that administration leaders are "starting to get it" on the importance of trade to agriculture.
The Trump administration has authorized the Commodity Credit Corp. to provide up to $12 billion in aid to farmers hurt by the trade disputes. Some of the aid will come through direct payments, some through government purchases of food items, and additional funds will go to trying to open new markets.
Marshall said the farmers he has talked with say they are grateful for stopgap aid but would rather have free trade and more markets than be forced to rely on government help to get by,
U.S. Secretary of Ag Sonny Perdue has acknowledged that farmers are being hurt by the trade war but blamed the dispute on China’s unfair practices. Perdue has agreed with Trump that short-term pain is necessary for long-term gain.
Trump has said that he expects the issues to be resolved in six months or less. However, just as it appeared that the U.S. and Mexico were nearing agreement one major sticking point — auto manufacturing — there is a new push to re-instate country-of-origin-labeling for beef and pork, which both Canada and Mexico strongly oppose.
In fact, one of the major factors in the rollback of COOL was action brought by those countries against the U.S. before the World Trade Organization.
Asked about the cost to American industry, especially Boeing and its suppliers, of imposing new sanctions on Iran after pulling out of the nuclear deal, Marshall said he thought it was justified because Iran was not abiding by the agreement.
He said that even though inspectors have found no indication that Iran was continuing to enrich uranium in violation of the deal, he believed they were because he "just doesn’t trust them."
He said he also doesn’t trust North Korea or China.
"The thing about those folks that is hard for Americans to understand is that they just deliberately lie. They lie about their intentions and it doesn’t bother them," he said. "Personally, I feel bad if I even make an honest mistake or misspeak, they don’t care."
Marshall said he does believe the U.S. should seek to normalize relations with Cuba and that opening that market would be good for American agriculture. He also said he would like to see more emphasis on helping stabilize Central and South American countries.