Washington – Minnesota’s three Republicans in Congress are supporting President Donald Trump as he escalates a trade fight with China that has caused jitters among farmers, consumers, investors and companies throughout the state.
“Our trade negotiation with China is at a crossroad,” U.S. Rep. Jim Hagedorn, the Republican who represents southern Minnesota, said Wednesday in a statement. “China has been one of our strongest trading partners and also the most difficult. China has long cheated, manipulated their currency and stolen our intellectual property.”
Hagedorn, who represents a heavily agricultural swath of the state, has stood steadfast with the president despite recent attacks from Democrats who see the tariffs as a political liability in farm country.
His fellow Minnesota Republicans, Reps. Tom Emmer of central Minnesota and Pete Stauber of northeastern Minnesota, expressed similar views on Wednesday, as the stock market recovered from Monday’s trade-war induced swoon. All three declined interview requests.
“Unfortunately, for too long, our trade policies have allowed foreign countries like China to cheat without repercussions,” Stauber said. Emmer echoed that: “For years, China has not been held accountable for perpetrating unfair trade practices.”
Political consequences could vary not just depending how Trump’s China confrontation plays out, but also by region of the state. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of the House Democrats, has been targeting Hagedorn over trade, a sign that he could expect a hard-fought re-election battle next year.
Stauber’s district includes the Iron Range, where Trump’s tariff hikes last year on foreign steel played well among employers. At a meeting last weekend in Duluth, officials with U.S. Steel and Cleveland-Cliffs told Stauber and a White House policy official that increased tariffs allowed them to reopen and revitalize steel facilities, according to a report in the Duluth News Tribune.
Stauber added that he hopes “a deal between the United States and China is reached soon” and that “relief for our farmers must be a priority in any trade agreement going forward.”
Traditionally the party of free trade, Republicans have watched in recent months as Trump has escalated the economic confrontation with China. Last week, the administration raised tariff rates from 10% to 25% on $200 billion of Chinese goods — everything from clothes to food products and much more. Trump is threatening more tariff increases in the absence of a new trade deal with China, which has retaliated with its own tariff hikes.
Even Trump has said he expects China to retaliate with trade measures aimed at America’s agricultural industry, one of the linchpins of Minnesota’s diversified economy. Among Minnesota’s Republican congressmen, there have been few public quibbles about Trump’s tactics, but rather continued support for what they see as the president’s broader aims.
Some of the harshest criticism of Trump’s trade policy in Minnesota has come from the dean of the state’s congressional delegation, Blue Dog Democrat Collin Peterson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Although Trump is popular in Peterson’s northwest Minnesota district, Peterson took aim at Trump last week, saying his decision to hike tariffs “does nothing but use our farmers as political pawns and further ourselves from a real solution.”
“While I understand the president believes he has good intentions on this,” Peterson continued, “he’s doing it without understanding the impacts this has on farmers and rural communities.”
Last year, Trump secured a $12 billion federal bailout for farmers affected by the trade war. Trump recently suggested he’d push for another $15 billion in continued support to farmers this year. Meanwhile, prices of a number of agricultural commodities have slumped since Trump instituted the latest tariffs.
Emmer cautioned that the farm economy in particular may only be able to take so much.
“Farmers must be certain they will have sufficient markets for harvest season, and our businesses cannot operate with the long term burdens of retaliatory tariffs, or rising costs due to these tariffs,” he said.
Tamara Nelsen, the executive director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Minnesota AgriGrowth Council, said in a news release on Tuesday that “these tariffs could not have come at a worse time.”
“On the heels of five years of low prices and record high inventories, the current ratcheting up of the existing trade war with China adds insult to injury,” Nelsen said. The AgriGrowth Council is a member organization that represents the agriculture and food industries.
Hagedorn said he’s been working with administration officials to keep them focused on the agricultural community and the feedback he’s hearing from grain, livestock and dairy producers. He also called for Congress to pass the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal, which he said would create momentum to lock down international trade deals.
Last week, Hagedorn testified at a hearing of the International Trade Commission as it probed the dumping of subsidized quartz surface products from China. That has repercussions for a major company in his district, Cambria Company LLC of Le Sueur.
Trade is “a two-way street in which we must ensure that our global trading partners are adhering to global trade rules,” Hagedorn testified. “In this current global economy, Cambria urgently needs a level playing field to be able to fairly compete and survive.”