By Sarah Gonzalez, Director of Communications and Digital Media
The Trump administration is mindful of protecting agriculture in its negotiations with China, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Senate appropriators on May 10.
“We’re all well aware that it’s horribly unfair for one industry to bear the brunt of retaliation, in our efforts to help other parts of the economy,” Ross said. “So, we will do our level best to minimize the problem and to maximize the support we can provide.”
Ross, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and other Trump administration officials spent time last week in China in an initial round of negotiations with the country’s vice premier, minister of commerce, minister of finance and others.
The U.S. provided a list of products, including soybeans, for which it wants China to increase purchases. Ross said he generally was pleased with the progress of the discussions. “It was the right level of people,” he said. “There’s a considerable gap between what they put on the table and what we feel we need. But that’s okay, you sort of expect that at this stage in the game.”
President Donald Trump has discussed imposing up to $150 billion in tariffs, $50 billion of which have been proposed, on Chinese goods in response to the country’s intellectual property policies and other controversial trade tactics. China has vowed to retaliate with $50 billion in tariffs against U.S. products, including agricultural commodities. Effective April 18, China began imposing duties of almost 179 percent on U.S. sorghum imports, requiring deposits of the tariff even to vessels en route. Earlier this year, Trump imposed tariffs on imported aluminum and steel, but exempted allies such as Canada, Mexico and the European Union for the time being.
Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., who chairs the Senate Commerce, Justice Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee that conducted the hearing, noted that “our economy relies on the ability to sell products we grow and manufacture to consumers around the world,” but “retaliatory tariffs announced by China have effectively shut down the sorghum export market, meaning that Kansas farmers are feeling the impact now.”
Ross said President Trump has directed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to “use all of the powers that his department has” to protect agriculture from retaliation. “So, we’re both trying to deal with that problem in the sessions,” he said. “And the president has requested specific help from Department of Agriculture to try to moderate the problem.”
However, agricultural interests have expressed repeatedly their desire to maintain and expand U.S. export markets rather than obtaining federal payments designed to mitigate against market disruption resulting from tariffs or other measures.
The Commerce secretary said the Chinese delegation is expected to arrive in the United States in the next couple weeks to continue discussions. “We made some very specific requests, product by product, quantity by quantity. And in a subsequent session, the Chinese responded in kind,” he said. “So, I am hopeful that we will make some further progress with them.”
Moran noted in his opening statement that he agreed with the administration that the United States “must be tougher in enforcing trade agreements…However, when enforcing trade rules, we must be mindful of the negative impacts retaliation can have on our domestic products,” he added.