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Farm-State Senators Press for Trade-War Mitigation

Trump needs to pick up the trade talk pace, Senators say.

The Trump administration needs to pick up its pace in finding new markets and should consider rejoining the TPP to blunt the damage of trade war on the ag sector, said farm-state senators on Thursday.

John Thune of South Dakota, No. 3 in Senate GOP leadership, told three administration officials that despite promises of new bilateral trade pacts, “I don’t see the evidence” of them.

Senate Agriculture chairman Pat Roberts, Thune, and Senator Steve Daines, Montana Republican, each suggested U.S. reentry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact. Roberts said it “would send a message to China” about U.S. determination on trade and global security policy. President Trump campaigned against TPP and one of his first actions as president was to withdraw the U.S. from the 12-nation pact.

Agriculture Undersecretary Ted McKinney and U.S. chief agricultural negotiator Gregg Doud said they were pursuing markets in Latin America and Asia to offset the loss of the ag export market in China, formerly the No. 1 market. Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, a Republican, complimented McKinney and Doud for working as well on Japan and the EU. “But, we need to get them done, folks,” said Ernst.

“We have friends who are going to lose their farms because of what's going on,” said Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana in questioning McKinney, the former Indiana agriculture director.

“There will be some losses. It’s very difficult,” responded McKinney, who said Trump is determined to rewrite trade pacts and trade rules that are biased against the United States. “All I can say is, we’re trying to right-size things that should have been resolved years ago.”

“These are our neighbors. This is completely self-inflicted,” said Donnelly. Senator Michael Bennet, Colorado Democrat, said it “seems insane” for the administration to provoke retaliatory tariffs from Canada, Mexico, and the EU when it holds China to blame for dumping steel and aluminum.

None of the senators mentioned Trump by name. Senator Tina Smith, Minnesota Democrat, said senators of both parties recognized anxiety and financial distress in farm country. “I just wish the person who sits in the Oval Office understood it as well,” she said.

On NAFTA, Doud said the top agricultural issues were Canada’s Class 7 price system for ultra-filtered milk, greater access to the consumer market, change in grain grading systems, and better treatment of wine in retail stores.

“China is a problem,” said McKinney. “It’s a longer-term play.” Meanwhile, the United States was looking at sales in other Asian countries.

Senior U.S. officials reportedly have offered to hold another round of talks with China. Trump commented today on social media: “The Wall Street Journal has it wrong, we are under no pressure to make a deal with China, they are under pressure to make a deal with us. Our markets are surging, theirs are collapsing. We will soon be taking in Billions in Tariffs & making products at home. If we meet, we meet?”

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