Members of the Kansas congressional delegation balanced their praise Monday for the president's efforts in trade relations by asserting a desire to find more indelible comfort for the state's distressed agriculture and manufacturing sectors.
President Donald Trump's administration announced it had reached a 16-year free trade deal with Mexico and outlined plans to distribute $12 billion to farmers reeling from the fallout of retaliatory tariff spikes.
"Kansas farmers and ranchers continue to struggle with low commodity prices, made worse by retaliatory tariffs against U.S. agricultural exports," said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. "Today’s announcement of disaster aid will provide short-term relief to producers harmed most by the tariffs. However, I remain concerned that no disaster package will be enough to cover the long-term costs of lost export markets."
Moran also complained the aid doesn't address the manufacturers and small businesses in Kansas that have been harmed by trade disputes.
The preliminary agreement with Mexico includes an option to renegotiate in six years and extend for an additional 16 years. But it raises questions about the country's relationship with Canada and the possibility of redrawing the North American Free Trade Agreement. Moran said he was pleased by the deal but insisted Trump needs to re-engage with Canada, calling it the top export market for Kansas.
Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican who leads the Senate's agriculture committee, said farmers prefer predictable markets over aid.
"With low prices across the board," Roberts said, "our farmers need long-term certainty. They want the predictability of export markets over aid. The announcement on a preliminary agreement with Mexico is a critical step in the right direction."
Rep. Roger Marshall, who represents the 1st District in Kansas and sits on the agriculture committee in the House, said the new deal with Mexico is a "crucial piece to the puzzle" for farmers. He also said the agreement — which aims to block China from routing cheap products through Mexico — will treat Kansas producers more fairly.
"The days of taking advantage of our American businesses and producers are over," Marshall said. "My hunch is that our agreement with Mexico will put pressure on Canada to come to the negotiating table so that we can restore a full and true modernized NAFTA agreement."
For the first time, said Gov. Jeff Colyer, the agreement with Mexico will address agricultural biotechnology.
"Kansas is heavily dependent on the agricultural and manufacturing industries, and it is a huge relief to our state to know that we can continue trading tariff-free with the new agreement," Colyer said. "I am thankful to the administration for reaching an agreement that modernizes this crucial trade pact."
Ethan Corson, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, said the announcement puts the cart before the horse. Trump has yet to address conflicts he initiated with other trade partners, Colson said.
"It is nothing more than an agreement between only two of the three countries party to NAFTA to just begin renegotiating trade relations and hopefully end the trade war Republicans created and have done nothing to stop," Corson said. "Kansas farmers and manufacturers desperately need the tariff skirmish with Mexico, Canada, the European Union and China to end immediately."
Rep. Ron Estes, a Republican seeking re-election in the 4th District, called the prospects of a new deal "great news" that signals a breakthrough in negotiations.
"As a consistent advocate for free and fair trade, I applaud President Trump for bringing Mexico to the negotiating table," Estes said.
His opponent, the Democrat James Thompson, said Trump's trade talks, including threats of terminating NAFTA, have been "divisive, confusing and reckless."
Estes, he said, "has done nothing to protect farmers and has instead acted like a highly paid cheerleader for the the president. When I’m in Congress, I will fight for truly free and fair trade deals and not just let my party leadership do the talking."