The lifeblood of Kansas is its agriculture. The state’s economy, culture and heritage are tied to operations at all levels.
Rural Kansans voted overwhelmingly to send Donald Trump to the White House. Now, the president has promoted tariffs on steel and aluminum that threaten a global trade war, which could jeopardize lucrative markets Kansas agricultural producers desperately need.
“These are the people who voted for the president. These are his people,’’ said Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “One county in Kansas even voted for him 90 percent and they’re not going to be happy about this.’’
Tariffs Trump announced last week, which will be go into effect March 23, were set at 25 percent on all steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum. The action prompted concern and confusion among the most significant partners engaged in trade with the United States. The threat of international retaliation could devastate agricultural markets that rely heavily on sales to foreign lands.
The election of Trump was considered something of a rural revolution. His support in communities largely dedicated to farmers and their operations helped in what was considered a populist push for the presidency. In Kansas, Trump received 56.6 percent of the vote and trounced Democrat Hillary Clinton by 20 percentage votes.
The president’s support likely will not erode completely in deep-red Kansas because of his decision to impose tariffs. Definitely not before Kansas farmers feel any kind of financial pinch from that policy. Nonetheless, the potential risks posed to farmers are sufficient enough to raise questions regarding any sincerity behind Trump’s promises to support rural America and those attempting to keep it viable.
Republicans from farming states, including Roberts, attempted to convince Trump not to raise tariffs because of the potential harm it could cause to global markets. Most agricultural groups, including those representing various commodities and manufacturers, also expressed concerns regarding potential push-back from foreign lands over tariffs.
The objections raised by Roberts are significant. The Kansas senator is typically a loyal supporter of Republican presidents and their platforms, but in this instance he drew a clear line in the soil. Trump contended the steel and aluminum industry in the U.S. had been “ravaged by aggressive foreign trade practices’’ and action was required to end the “betrayal.’’ Yet the hardship those tariffs could potentially create for agricultural interests was firmly outlined by Roberts.
“This proposal,’’ said the fourth-term senator, “is not a tariff on steel and aluminum imports; it is a tax on consumers. As we have seen in past cases of increased tariffs, higher manufacturing costs will inevitably be passed down the supply chain, forcing customers to bear these costs.’’
Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer was another Republican who recognized the potentially devastating effects of the tariffs. Colyer expressed his support for NAFTA and its impact on agriculture and manufacturing in the state. The process of renegotiating NAFTA currently involves talks the U.S. is conducting with Canada and Mexico, neighboring countries which were initially excluded from the tariffs.
The tariffs were imposed under a provision that enables the president to restrict trade because of national security interests. Imports of steel and aluminum, his administration reasons, are harming the viability of those industries and consequently pose a risk to national security.
The issue over security seems like a stretch, however, compared to Trump’s intent to take action seen as a method to gain support of Americans working in mills and factories.
Yet at what price to Americans working on farms and ranches, as well as many others involved in the agricultural industry? Not only could they suffer, but every American could be hurt if, as Roberts said, costs rise for consumers.
The overall damage the tariffs inflict could outweigh the trade imbalance Trump wants to correct. Many industries could be hurt, but because of the trade agreements it relies on, agriculture is most vulnerable. That disturbing prospect could have an acute impact on the nation’s heartland, which happens to include a place Trump enjoyed enthusiastic support during his campaign, Kansas.