Kansas politicians are closely watching developing trade policies with an eye to whether they could start a trade war that might hurt industries in the state that rely on exports.
President Donald Trump’s administration has been in talks with Canada and Mexico to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA.
“NAFTA is the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere,” Trump said while campaigning for office, “but certainly ever signed in this country.”
Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer said he supports the negotiations. Yet Colyer and industry trade groups asked Trump in a letter last week not to scrap the deal because that could hurt major Kansas export industries, such as agriculture and aviation.
“We want to make sure that Kansas industries continue to thrive and grow,” the governor said. “We’re a very competitive state.”
Canada and Mexico are key destinations for Kansas farm commodities, said Josh Roe, the deputy secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
“There have certainly been years where Mexico and Canada are number one and number two,” Roe said last year.
Roe said that in 2016, agriculture and aviation accounted for more than half the dollar value of the state’s exports.
Trump also announced tariffs on steel and aluminum last week — critical supplies for Kansas manufacturing.
"A strong steel and aluminum industry are vital to our national security, absolutely vital," Trump said at a ceremony announcing the tariffs.
State Rep. Jim Ward, the top Democrat in the Kansas House, said he’s concerned Trump’s actions could spark retaliatory tariffs, which could impact industries beyond manufacturing.
“Agriculture would be devastated by tariffs or a trade war,” Ward said.
The south-central part of Kansas is highly focused on manufacturing, specifically aviation.
At a recent stop at Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita, Republican U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran pointed to an airplane fuselage as an item that could be impacted by aluminum tariffs.
“The fuselage that we’re celebrating here at Spirit is 100 percent aluminum,” Moran said. “(A tariff) has a consequence in the price.”
Aerospace Industries Association CEO Eric Fanning said commercial aviation relies on imported aluminum and steel.
President Trump’s tariff on the metals was softened, though, by excluding Canada and Mexico.
Canada has been the top source of imported aluminum in the U.S. in recent years, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.