By Marcus Clem
A Kansas Democratic leader and congressional candidate visited the area April 12 for a conversation echoing concerns recently observable throughout the Midwest amid brewing international trade tensions.
“The discussion right now on tariffs and changing trade agreements has got people in agriculture very concerned,” said Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, last on the campaign trail in 2014 in a closely contested gubernatorial race against former Gov. Sam Brownback, who won re-election that year. “We export a tremendous amount of agricultural product here in Kansas.”
Davis, who is campaigning to succeed Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins, said he’s particularly concerned for the state of the soybean industry, which leads agricultural production in the second of Kansas’ four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In a roundtable conversation he had with area farmers at Paolucci’s Restaurant, Deli and Lounge, 113 S. 3rd St., Davis concurred with the farmers’ unanimously expressed fears on President Donald Trump’s trade policy. That China, for example, has misbehaved in flooding international markets with cheap goods and restricted American exports is, Davis said, likely to be worthy of U.S. scrutiny.
However, Trump’s statements on Twitter and in person earlier this month reflecting his government’s desire to tariff up to $100 billion in Chinese goods is certain demands aren’t met have caused China to threaten retaliation. Most crucially for the Atchison region, China has said it will tariff pork, corn and soybean products at 25 percent.
Jerry Henry, a Democrat who represented Atchison and Doniphan counties for 24 years in the Kansas House of Representatives, who today works as executive director of Achievement Services for NEK, Inc., said the possible impact of such a retaliatory tariff can’t be overstated.
“Quite frankly, it’s not inconceivable to think that you could see some communities dry up and move away,” he said. “There will be whole communities that would be destroyed by any type of even a minor trade war, where China, instead of buying all of their products from the United States, goes to Brazil. That would be a tremendous blow to all of the farmers of the United States, not just in Kansas.”
Mike Scherer, president of AgRisk Solutions, based in downtown Atchison, said there is not yet cause for agricultural industry leaders to dread the future, even though fears of the Chinese retaliation are well-founded.
“In (agriculture), it’s interesting right now, because in general (farmers) were very supportive of the president, and now I have to say there’s reason for cautious optimism,” he said. “This is somewhat of a high-risk approach to what we’re trying to do. It cause good outcomes, but also some pretty negative outcomes. (New tariffs) would undo a lot of hard work that’s been done in the (agriculture) industry to build these markets over several decades.”
Asked if he knows what Trump’s ultimate goal is by applying new tariffs, Davis said the conversations he’s had leave him uncertain whether the government is pursuing a long-run strategy or merely short-term impulse.
“I am curious as to what is the end game here,” he said. “Clearly, the Chinese have not always been on their best behavior. I think we need to take a surgical approach to how we’re gonna address that. A lot of saber-rattling can cause a great deal of alarm and consternation. That’s what we’re hearing right now.”
Overall, Davis said, if he’s elected he will “go to bat” for the region’s farmers, but the agriculture industry will deserve “results.”
“If we have a 25 percent tariff put on soybeans, that is going to be absolutely devastating to farmers here in northeast Kansas.”