Trump meets with Ricketts, other Midlands lawmakers on tariffs and ethanol; president said to be rethinking Trans-Pacific Partnership

Source: By Joseph Morton, Omaha World Herald • Posted: Friday, April 13, 2018

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump indicated Thursday that his administration will re-enter negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership and lift sales restrictions on certain ethanol blends.

Both steps are welcome news to Midwest farmers worried that they are becoming collateral damage in ongoing tariff battles as the president attempts to crack down on what he calls China’s unfair trade practices.

Trump announced both moves during a White House sit-down with farm state politicians that included the Nebraska and Iowa governors, all four of the states’ U.S. senators and Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., who all hit upbeat notes afterward.

“The encouraging thing is that the president has an overall trade strategy, but he also understands the importance of trade to our farmers and ranchers and he’s listening and wants to make sure that we have great trade opportunities,” Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts told The World-Herald after the meeting.

Ricketts said the prospect of expanding ethanol sales and completing good trade deals, from the TPP to an improved North American Free Trade Agreement, should provide more certainty to an agriculture sector rattled by Chinese retaliation targeting U.S. agriculture, from pork to soybeans.

“Farmers and ranchers are nervous,” Ricketts said. “Nobody likes uncertainty and certainly not people in agriculture.”

The ethanol industry and the corn farmers connected with it have been pushing for year-round sale of E15, which currently faces summertime restrictions.

“We’re working on the ethanol,” Trump said while reporters were allowed in the room Thursday. “We’re going to raise it up to 15 percent. … We’re going to go to 12 months, which makes a lot of farmers very happy.”

Ricketts said he and others in the meeting also raised complaints about the Environmental Protection Agency giving refineries waivers to federal ethanol mandates.

Earlier in the week, Trump alluded to China’s targeting of agriculture as payback for the tariffs he is implementing.

“But I tell you, our farmers are great patriots,” Trump said Monday. “These are great patriots. They understand that they’re doing this for the country. And we’ll make it up to them. And in the end, they’re going to be much stronger than they are right now.”

Several participants in Thursday’s meeting said Trump floated one way to “make it up” to those farmers — more robust federal subsidies. But those around the table told him that is not what ag producers are seeking.

“I think the president heard unified voices that we need more trade, not less, and that the farmers and ranchers of America — they don’t want welfare payments,” Sen. Ben Sasse told reporters after the meeting. “They want to feed the world.”

Sasse hailed the TPP news in particular and said that kind of multilateral trade agreement represents a better tactic for confronting unfair Chinese trade practices than unilateral tariffs focused on narrow parts of the economy such as steel production.

Sen. Deb Fischer said it is important to remember that farmers and ranchers are hurting right now.

“And so to be able to go back to Nebraska, go home and report to folks that exports are first and foremost in the president’s mind, I think that’s going to have a very positive effect on a lot of the uncertainty that’s out there,” Fischer said.

Ricketts said farm income has fallen hard in recent years and said producers don’t want to see a loss in business, but he sees them continuing to stand with Trump.

“By and large when I talk to folks they want to see good trade deals, and they support the president.”

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