By Sherman Smith
Topeka Capital Journal
Congressional candidates in the 2nd District are wary of the effect a trade war with China could have on Kansas agriculture, but some support president Donald Trump’s efforts to negotiate for a better deal.
Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on $150 billion in Chinese goods, and Beijing retaliated by announcing tariffs on agricultural items. Kansas is the leading producer of sorghum, which would be subject to a staggering 179 percent tariff.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin heads to Beijing this week with hope of averting a full-blown trade war.
Republican state Sen. Steve Fitzgerald said China has for decades been “felonious” in trade, stealing intellectual property and violating patent agreements. That “bad behavior” has to stop, he said.
“I think the president is correct to take on the Chinese government over these matters,” Fitzgerald said. “I think he’s taking a tough line. And I believe that the Chinese lately are beginning to show some more reasonableness and rationality through the latest reports that I’ve seen.
“Naturally, when we do this, we put everything at risk. Trade war is not a good thing — very dangerous, and particularly to our agricultural economy here in Kansas.”
Two other Republicans in the race, state Rep. Kevin Jones and state Sen. Caryn Tyson, also support the president’s willingness to pressure Beijing.
“You stop a bully by standing up to them,” Jones said. “Looking past China’s mere bluster of verbal threats toward agriculture, its only substantive responses to America’s new resolve are concessions to negotiate, and a rollback of tariffs on certain American goods.”
Tyson pointed to the president’s strategy for dealing with North Korea, which announced a suspension of nuclear and missile testing ahead of last week’s historic summit with South Korea.
It is important to give Trump a chance, Tyson said.
“I’m cautiously optimistic we will see some results from these negotiations,” Tyson said.
Others seem less confident. Marine veteran Tyler Tannahill and Army veteran Steve Watkins, both Republicans, cautioned against the fallout from trade war.
Tannahill described the tariffs as “political strategy.”
“Historically,” Tannahill said, “these tactics benefit other nations’ trade negotiations and harm American producers and consumers. Kansan producers and consumers should not bear the weight of political gamesmanship with China.”
Watkins said he hopes Trump will do everything he can to avoid a trade war. Farmers and ranchers already struggle to put food on tables, he said.
“A free trade economy is one that stands to benefit Kansans far greater than any regulated method that will only burden our small and rural communities,” Watkins said. “We are not only America’s but also the world’s breadbasket. Farmers in this state already face uncertainty, both with falling crop prices and constant regulatory changes.”
The Democrat in the race, former House Minority Leader Paul Davis, said Kansas farmers are so good at producing food, they can’t compete without international trading partners.
Generations have worked to build overseas markets and relationships, he said.
“Kansans are terrified about what a trade war with their biggest customer would mean for family farms and rural communities,” Davis said. “Elected leaders should be fighting to protect the interests of Kansas agriculture, not dismantling them.”