MANHATTAN — U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran offered reassurance to Kansas agricultural business leaders Wednesday that President Donald Trump understands the importance of trade agreements to the farming industry.
They were joined by U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for a forum in a crowded, dusty, stone-walled barn east of Manhattan. Perdue indicated a trade deal with China soon may be finalized and that attention will turn to rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership after extending the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Several people raised concerns about the fate of a farm bill — current legislation expires in September — after a House version failed to gain traction because of concerns with work requirements tied to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Roberts said “everybody knows” the House plan would fail in the Senate, but he hopes to produce his own farm bill by June 6 and get it to the Senate floor the following week.
A bipartisan effort will be necessary to secure 60 votes in the Senate, Roberts said. He said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has promised not to use a parliamentary procedure to jam the process.
“There was a time that if a jackrabbit hopped across the floor of the United States Senate, Chuck Schumer would either shoot it or file cloture on it,” Roberts said.
Answering questions from the anxious crowd about Trump’s trade negotiations, Roberts and Moran said they have talked about the importance of exports in meetings with Trump; his economic adviser, Larry Kudlow; and his chief of staff, John Kelly. In a tit-for-tat tirade with China, tensions piqued with the threat of a 179 percent tariff on U.S. sorghum, of which Kansas is the leading producer.
Trade is key to survival, Moran said, and the most important issue for Kansas.
“We conveyed that to the president,” Moran said. “Our goal was: Mr. President, you can isolate China by participating in TPP. You can isolate China by getting a NAFTA agreement concluded. You can isolate China by getting us out of the tariff battle.”
Moran said Trump agreed and directed Kudlow to “go to work” on getting back into the TPP. As the meeting was wrapping up, Roberts asked the president if they could tell people he intends to rejoin the TPP, and Trump consented, sparking “a race to the microphone.”
Kelly then pulled Roberts aside and asked whether Roberts really needed “to lasso him that tight.”
“I said he needs to be tied up,” Roberts said.
A few days later, Moran said, Trump tweeted he still didn’t like the TPP.
“I don’t know how this story ends,” Moran said, “and I’ve had Kansans tell me that the president knows what he’s doing when it comes to these trade agreements. ‘He’s a business person’ is the story people tell me. I hope this is a negotiating tactic that works, but the risks are tremendous if we don’t get it right.”
The forum was held at River Creek Farms, about 10 miles east of Manhattan. Perdue wondered what stories the walls could tell in the “beautiful, historic” barn where the crowd was gathered.
Perdue said he understands the “legitimate anxiety here,” and told the crowd the president knows how important exports are to the agriculture community. Trump uses a “unique negotiating style” that farmers don’t always understand, Perdue said.
“I applaud him on calling China’s hand on some of the unfair trade practices,” Perdue said.
He said staff from his agency are in China working out an agreement, and he remains optimistic U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross can “seal the deal” when he arrives this weekend.
Gov. Jeff Colyer said Kansas can overcome any damage caused by the president’s trade negotiations.
“I think Kansas producers can compete with anybody in the world,” he said. ”...I think we may be a little behind the ball right now, but we’re going to be catching up.”