As China threatens more tariffs, Midlands lawmakers and farm groups say U.S. is in for ‘ugly fight’

As China threatens more tariffs, Midlands lawmakers and farm groups say U.S. is in for ‘ugly fight’
Cattle owned by Tom and Paula Peterson pictured in 2014 in Waverly, Nebraska. (SARAH HOFFMAN/THE WORLD-HERALD)

WASHINGTON — Midlands lawmakers and farm groups reiterated their concerns Friday about ongoing trade disputes as China threatened a fresh round of tariffs on U.S. goods.

“Nobody wins a trade war,” said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. “Tariffs are going to hurt Nebraska agriculture and the way America should crack down on Chinese cheating is by leading a Pacific trade coalition.”

China’s threat on a $60 billion list of goods is just the latest round in the back-and-forth tariff battles that have been particularly hard on aspects of U.S. agriculture.

The fight with China could be the toughest to resolve, according to the farm groups watching closely, because it involves broader issues such as intellectual property rights.

Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson expressed hope that swift progress can be made on trade deals with Mexico, Canada and European countries but expects China to be more difficult.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said, “The trade war with China seems to be getting worse before it gets better.”

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., called it “an ugly fight.”

There were conflicting reports about whether the latest tariff threats would include beef.

China was closed to U.S. beef exports for years and reopened only in 2017Expanding the market there has been slow going, and tariffs would only further undercut that effort.

Pete McClymont, executive vice president of the Nebraska Cattlemen, said Nebraska accounted for almost 60 percent of total U.S. beef exports to China since the market reopened.

Estimates showed that reopened access to China, before the tariffs, would have increased the value of U.S. beef exports to $430 million by 2020, McClymont said. Nebraska Cattlemen is urging the administration to secure “meaningful, long-term market access for U.S. beef.”

Dave Miller, director of research and commodity services for the Iowa Farm Bureau, recently returned from China and said he doesn’t see either side backing down.

“We’re still in the escalation phase, if you will,” he said, predicting that would continue for six months or more.

He faulted China for targeting agriculture to pressure President Donald Trump, who has pledged to revamp trade relationships that he says are unfair to the U.S.

Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., said Friday’s announcement by China shows that it denies its own role in the trade conflict.

“Whether dumping product below cost, stealing our intellectual property, or unfairly excluding U.S. products from its markets, China is the bad actor, and its retaliatory tariffs on our products are completely unjustified,” Smith said. He said he has urged Trump to engage with China diplomatically.

Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., said, “I hope the president can quickly achieve the same progress he has made with the EU to work towards a beneficial solution for our country.”

Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., continues to discuss the impact of tariffs on agriculture with the president, a Fischer spokeswoman said.

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