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Trade wars target Washington agriculture


Last updated 4/11/2018 at 9:35am

I recently traveled across Washington’s Fourth Congressional District to speak with farmers from each county and to hear their concerns about an upcoming Farm Bill. One of the largest concerns expressed by farmers had little to do with congressional action, however: Central Washington farmers expressed their anxiety about the impact of a potentially escalating trade war with global trading partners.

President Trump recently announced new tariffs worth billions of dollars on products manufactured by China. The reasons he cited for tariffs are certainly valid: Some countries have not been playing by the rules, and China is one of the worst offenders. Everyone should recognize that for global trade to take place, there must be a level playing field. U.S. companies can compete with any country — if there is a level playing field.

The U.S. response to trade cheating should be tactical and measured because American exporters have a lot to lose if tensions are ratcheted up too high. China is an enormous market where many U.S. companies want to engage in business, but China is not satisfied with merely competing. The world’s most populous nation also wants to control markets. U.S. trade policy must be shrewdly calculated to ensure that China, or any other country, is not bending the rules in their own favor.

Currently, Washington-based businesses are effective competitors in the global market in aerospace manufacturing, software development, agriculture, and more. Forty percent of jobs in our state are tied to trade. Much of the agricultural bounty of our state is grown right in Central Washington, and many customers who purchase Washington-grown products are overseas and, yes, in China. As recently as 2016, Washington produced and exported $7 billion worth of food and agricultural products. According to the Washington Grain Commission, 90 percent of Washington wheat is exported each year, contributing in a positive way to the U.S. trade balance.

When the prospect of the Administration imposing tariffs on Chinese aluminum and steel imports became imminent at the beginning of March, I joined more than a hundred Republican colleagues to remind the Administration that tariffs are effectively taxes that are passed on to American businesses and consumers. The result is higher prices. In addition to higher prices, China has promised retaliation to hurt American businesses. As we have seen of products listed for retaliation, China’s response would have a disproportionate impact on Washington and other farm-state exports.

I will continue to meet with Administration officials and request that the Administration respond to threats to Washington agriculture that result from the back-and-forth of tariffs. I want to work with the Administration to enforce accountability for bad actors on trade while protecting U.S. businesses and jobs from negative unintended consequences of overbroad tariffs.

When it comes to a trade war that exposes agriculture producers in Central Washington and elsewhere, farmers need a quick solution.


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