HURON – Producers and manufacturers are growing more frustrated every day about the lack of a trade deal with China, but until that happens the administration should provide short-term government assistance, South Dakota’s congressional delegation said Thursday in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
While it won’t make up for the loss of profits, it will help relieve some of the pain, Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., said in a conference call with reporters.
The letter, also signed by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., is intended to send a message on how serious the situation is, Rounds said.
“What they really want is a fair trade deal and that’s the bottom line,” he said.
Producers understand that free trade is important, but “fair trade has got to be a part of that,” Rounds said.
He thinks the defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement involving the United States and 11 other countries should be revisited. Signed in February 2016, it was never ratified as required. Agreements with other countries – where half a billion people desire trade with the United States – would give producers access to more markets and give the U.S. a stronger hand with China, Rounds said.
Net farm income is down 50 percent from five years ago and farmers say they can’t survive much longer, although they have been supportive of President Trump’s efforts to strike a fair deal increasing access for American agricultural products.
“They’ve given him a lot of rope,” Rounds said. “There’s an end to the rope. We just don’t know where that’s at.”
A trade deal with China should level the playing field and put an end to its theft of intellectual properties, which is costing the United States between $225 billion and $600 billion a year, he said.
“China has been an unfair trading partner for decades,” Rounds said.
The two countries have gone back and forth in raising the stakes with higher tariffs. “I think we know that nobody wins in this situation,” he said.
As for the short-term government assistance the delegation supports, Rounds said they have not yet seen specifics, but want it to be expedited so producers know the level of limited relief. The money should go directly to farmers, he said, and should not impact farm bill programs on a long-term basis, he said.
Rounds said the discussion has also included options producers have for commodities they have harvested and are storing. Other markets for soybeans need to be identified by the administration, and those could involve a replacement agreement with Canada and Mexico and deals with European countries.
Meanwhile, Rounds said he has introduced legislation that would close a loophole in the Gun-Free School Zones Act to give law-abiding citizens in states with constitutional carry laws the same legal authority to possess a firearm as individuals in states that require a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
It would make certain that South Dakotans who exercise their Second Amendment right are treated the same as those who possess concealed handguns with a permit, he said.
Asked by a reporter about increasing tensions with Iran, Rounds said he will know more after a classified member discussion scheduled for Tuesday.
He said they have been asked to be careful in what they do share.
“This is a very serious situation, not one that just relies on one or two pictures,” he said.