Nebraska governor says he told USDA chief of tariff concerns

Source: By Barbara Soderlin, Omaha World Herald • Posted: Thursday, March 8, 2018

KEARNEY — Expanding Nebraska’s agricultural exports is essential to expanding the state’s economy, so the threat of a trade war is a serious concern, Gov. Pete Ricketts told industry leaders gathered Wednesday at his annual Governor’s Ag Conference.

Ricketts said he spoke Monday with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, relaying his concern that countries harmed by President Donald Trump’s proposed steel and aluminum tariffs could retaliate in ways that would cut their imports of U.S. food and commodities.

“We have to make sure that as we’re looking at the overall trade strategy, that we are mindful of how this would impact other industries,” said Ricketts, who has been a Trump supporter.

Ricketts said he reinforced to Perdue the importance of maintaining strong ag trade with Canada and Mexico. “We want to make sure we keep those markets open and that we don’t jeopardize those relationships,” Ricketts said.

Mexico and Canada are Nebraska’s two biggest export customers for agricultural goods, together buying about 45 percent of the state’s total ag exports.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration was “definitely going to end up” with the across-the-board tariffs Trump is seeking — 25 percent on steel imports, 10 percent on aluminum. “But, again, there will be a mechanism where, to the extent that the president wants to give waivers, the president can do that,” Mnuchin told Fox Business.

Ag industry leaders at the conference in Kearney said they were worried about Trump’s approach upsetting trade relationships.

Pork producer Terry O’Neel of Friend said any disruptions to trade “hurt hard.”

“In my business, we’re expanding,” he said. “We have to export these products.”

Losing export markets is dangerous to the beef industry, too, cattle feeder Craig Uden said. The value of exports to the beef producer is equivalent to 60 percent of the cost of a calf.

Without exports, he said, “nobody’s viable.”

The dispute over the steel and aluminum tariffs has exposed a rift between advocates of free trade, who have long dominated GOP circles, and a president who has railed against China and pushed for more protectionist trade policies.

Internally, White House officials who oppose the tariffs have urged the administration to limit the countries that would be affected and to impose time limits. That would help the president say he delivered on his promise and still try to avoid possible negative consequences, said Stephen Moore, a former campaign adviser and now an economist at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Such negative consequences could have reverberations in the ag economies of Nebraska and Iowa. All the members of Iowa’s congressional delegation, for instance, sent a letter to Trump on Wednesday urging him not to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum because they could harm Iowa’s farmers and manufacturers.

Republicans in Congress and within Trump’s administration say industries and their workers who need steel and aluminum for their products also would be hurt by Trump’s threatened tariffs. They say Americans will face higher costs for new cars, appliances and buildings if the president follows through on his threat and other nations retaliate.

Trump has said the tariffs are needed to preserve American industries and protect national security.