CAUGHT IN ‘CROSSFIRE’
U.S. farmers decry Trump tariffs
WASHINGTON In another sign of growing congressional rebellion against President Donald Trump’s trade wars, a Republican-led committee gave U.S. farmers a platform Wednesday to detail how they’ve been hurt by tariffs imposed on countries like Canada — and the resulting reprisal.
Fruit growers, cattle ranchers and grain farmers told members of the House of Representatives trade subcommittee that tariffs on imported steel and aluminum had boosted their costs just as agricultural commodity prices are dropping, while retaliation was shrinking overseas markets.
And they bemoaned the fact that some of Trump’s first targets included Mexico and Canada, the latter being U.S. agriculture’s largest export market.
“Placing tariffs on our closest trading partners — in particular Canada and Mexico — is concerning,” said Russell Boening, a dairy farmer and president of the Texas Farm Bureau. “We must continue working for a strong, modernized North American Free Trade Agreement. Ideally … as soon as possible.”
The complaints got a generally sympathetic hearing from the subcommittee, whose GOP chairman, Dave Reichert, has been outspoken in criticizing Trump’s trade strategy.
“U.S. farmers, ranchers and growers are right now caught in an international crossfire,” he said as the hearings started. “The damage is entirely predictable.”
It came a day after an extraordinary collection of 19 Republican and Democrat senators and representatives appeared at a U.S. International Trade Commission hearing to condemn duties imposed on Canadian newsprint, and the impact they’re having on the struggling U.S. newspaper industry.
Bipartisan bills have been introduced in both houses to reassert Congress’s traditional oversight over trade and stop the “nationalsecurity”-based tariffs imposed on steel and aluminum imported from Canada and elsewhere. An investigation ordered by Trump is looking at slapping the same tariffs on imported automobiles.
Orrin Hatch, Republican chair of the Senate’s finance committee, added his voice this week to the clamour against the tactics. He pledged to help advance such legislation if “the administration continues forward with its misguided and reckless reliance on tariffs.”
Yet Congress’s efforts have so far been for the most part symbolic, with no concrete measures yet to rein in the president.
And at Wednesday ’s house hearing, at least one congressman was more concerned with a surprisingly acute trade irritant between the U.S. and Canada than the president’s trade wars.
Republican Devin Nunes, a staunch Trump ally, asked one of the farmer-witnesses what to do about Canada “getting a free ride on dairy for a long, long time.”
“I would like to see Canada fix once and for all … these unfair trade practices,” Nunes said, suggesting inaccurately that the U.S. has a dairy “trade deficit” with Canada.
Under Canada’s supply management system for dairy, the U.S. is allowed an export quota that is mostly duty-free, and which actually creates a dairy trade surplus for the U.S. American producers complain, though, they should have more access to the Canadian market, and that a new program that has lowered the price of processed milk ingredients in Canada creates another, unfair barrier.
Other Republican members suggested that Trump’s fight to win better trade deals for America was worth the “pain” caused by his tariffs.
“It’s going to be a roller-coaster,” said Rep. Jason Smith of Montana, his voice rising almost to a shout. “I’m very glad we have someone in the White House I trust and is willing to stand up for farmers.”
But the farmers themselves said they had become the trade war’s innocent, collateral damage.
Michelle Erickson-Jones, who co-owns a grain and cattle farm in Montana, said she abandoned a plan to install an additional 25,000-bushel grain bin, after the price rose 20 per cent within a few months this year. The bin maker blamed the price hike on rising costs of steel, as domestic producers increased their prices to match the 25-per-cent tariff imposed on imported metal.
“A small local construction company lost a project, a U.S. grain bin company missed a sale, and a domestic steel company had one less shipment to send out,” she said.