SALINA — During a town hall meeting in Salina on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran said Trump administration trade policies are creating problems for Kansas farmers and rural communities.
“The message I have delivered to President Trump and the people in the administration is that at the end of the day, we have to have the opportunity to export or we will not earn a living in Kansas,” he said.
Recently, the Trump administration has imposed tariffs on Canada, Mexico, European countries and China. Moran said many countries have retaliated by imposing tariffs on U.S. agricultural goods.
Trump administration officials announced last month that the federal government will make $12 billion in assistance available to farmers to alleviate the effects of counter-tariffs. Moran said trade is a far better way to support U.S. farmers.
“Those losses will be significantly more than $12 billion,” he said. “You cannot overcome the volume of income that we earn in trade with a government program. Farmers generally, while I would guess many will say, ‘We will take the money,’ it’s not what they tell me they want. They want the markets.”
Hurting an ally
Moran was particularly critical of U.S. tariffs on Canada, which he said is a strong U.S. ally.
“Canadians have died alongside American soldiers and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan,” he said. “I am old enough to remember the detainment of our Americans in Tehran. Many of them hid in the Canadian embassy and were smuggled out.”
Moran said he couldn’t imagine that when Congress gave presidents the power to impose tariffs for national security purposes they would have intended it to be used against Canada.
The tariffs include one on the type of paper used to create newspapers. Moran said additional costs tied to the tariffs have made it difficult for many newspapers to make ends meet.
“Newspapers that are already struggling to stay in business now have one more increasing cost in putting a newspaper to print,” he said.
Hope for agreement
According to Moran, the Trump administration is attempting to renegotiate NAFTA, a trade agreement between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.
“In my view, there is nothing wrong with negotiating a new, updated agreement, one that better reflects, perhaps, the circumstances of the day,” Moran said. “My hope is that at the end of those negotiations there actually is an agreement that is put in place. The current indications are, I’ve heard this from President Trump himself, that reaching an agreement with Mexico seems possible, but not with Canada.”
Moran said Mexico is the No. 1 purchaser of agricultural commodities from the United States. He said Canada is either No. 1 or No. 3, depending on the year.
Moran also expressed support for reducing restrictions on trade with Cuba.
“In my view, if you can increase the standard of living of a better life for Cubans in a financial sense, they then make demands on their government for freedom and liberty, in press and religion and the ability to speak your mind,” he said.
Need for a united approach
President Donald Trump withdrew from negotiations to create the Trans Pacific Partnership in January 2017, as he had promised during his campaign to do. The multi-lateral trade deal would have included countries from South America and Asia. In March, many of the countries involved in those negotiations signed a trade agreement without the U.S.
Moran said the U.S. lost access to markets and opportunities by not participating in the partnership.
While Moran said he is open to addressing concerns about tariffs on China, he said the Trump administration’s approach has alienated U.S. allies that would have been useful in confronting China about its misbehavior.
“They steal our trade secrets, they attack us in cyber and they steal our intellectual property, but a general tariff war is not the solution to that problem, and we ought to be united with the rest of the world,” he said. “At the moment, we have picked these trade fights with Canada, Mexico, European countries and the Pacific, where if we were united, I think there would be agreement that China is misbehaving and we can work together to change China’s behavior instead of having a series of trade issues ongoing all at the same time.”
Moran said he is worried farmers and manufacturers will have a difficult time getting customers back who have found other suppliers if and when tariffs on American goods are removed. He said the tariffs could have long-term effects for Kansas farms.
“As young men and women are making a decision about whether to return to the farm, whether to stay on the farm, they are making those decisions now, based upon what the circumstances are,” he said. “A significant part of what I am about is trying to keep rural America alive and well. How do we keep my hometown of Plainville around a while longer?”
Moran said he hopes his opposition to tariffs will help rural Kansas communities.
“I would feel like I failed in my obligation to Kansans whom I represent, and rural America that I love, if I’m not a strong voice for what I see that is going wrong, not right,” he said.