Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, sits in his Washington office on March 12. Grassley said he opposes President Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum because they could hurt Iowa farmers who rely on international trade to make a profit. (Gage Miskimen/The Daily Iowan)

Delegates vow to protect Iowans if steel, aluminum tariffs lead to trade war

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Fear of international retaliation against Trump’s latest tariffs have led Iowa’s congressional leaders to speak out against the president.

By Katelyn Weisbrod

katelyn-weisbrod@uiowa.edu

WASHINGTON — Members of Iowa’s congressional delegation vow to protect Iowans, particularly agricultural producers, as impending tariffs could lead to retaliation from foreign countries.

President Trump announced a 25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum earlier this month. The move aimed to increase domestic production of the two commodities, which are used in everything from cars to phones to canned goods.

Shortly after the announcement, Iowa’s two senators and four representatives signed a joint letter to the president condemning his decision, citing their concerns of retaliation from other countries.

The fear is that the Iowa’s producers will suffer from the trade move.

“The easiest industry to retaliate against is agriculture,” Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said.

If retaliation does lead to harm for Iowa farmers, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he will continue to try to persuade the president to reach a trade deal that would better help Iowans.

Grassley noted he would provide protections in the next farm bill, which could pass this year, such as maintaining crop insurance and scaling back the conservation reserve program, which removes environmentally sensitive land from production.

“I would never lead farmers of Iowa to believe that the farm program is going to guarantee them profitability — it’s a safety net,” Grassley said. “There’s so much with farming — natural disasters, political decisions, or international affairs that affect income of farmers that they have no control over, so we have a safety net to protect them.”

One of the biggest international markets for Iowa is China, which tripled in exports between 2006 and 2016, according to the U.S.-China Business Council. Sixty percent of Iowa’s soybeans go to China, and the country just opened itself to beef trade with the U.S. in November, which was a big win for the Hawkeye State.

RELATED: Agricultural delegation notes Chinese progress

If China chooses to slap tariffs back onto the U.S., Iowa’s congressional delegation fears the grain- and livestock-producing constituents will suffer.

Despite her disagreement about Trump’s decision, Ernst said she still agrees with the administration’s intended goals. Ideally, the action would have more targeted China, she said. A statement from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said China has used “unfair trade practices” that have “distorted” markets for steel and aluminum.

However, organizations such as the Iowa Soybean Association highly value their relationship with China and are worried about how these tariffs could affect their trade. Director of communications for the Iowa Soybean Association Aaron Putze said his organization plans to send a delegation to China later this month.

“We must ensure that these current waves of discontent in trade between our two important countries do not disrupt agricultural trade,” Putze wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan.

Another concern is the possibility of increased prices on goods. Farmers need steel and aluminum to produce food, and individuals use products containing these commodities on a daily basis.

“There’s not … 10 minutes that go by when we’re not touching steel or aluminum,” said Rep. David Young, R-Iowa.

Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, agreed with his fellow delegates that the president’s decision was wrong.

“[International trade] affects so many different people in so many different ways, and that’s why we have to be particularly vigilant,” Loebsack said. “I think when we’re considering actions to take against trading partners, how might that help us and how might that hurt us, and I don’t think a lot of thought was put into what the president decided to do.”

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