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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

McMorris Rodgers: Trump should listen to Washington wheat farmers on tariffs

FILE - President-elect Donald Trump and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., shake hands as she leaves the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, in Bedminster, N.J. (Carolyn Kaster / AP)

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers on Thursday called for President Donald Trump to take concerns from the region’s wheat growers about Chinese tariffs seriously.

“I would hope that would be more compelling to the president, that these are hardworking men and women of America that voted for him,” McMorris Rodgers said in an interview Thursday.

Representatives of the region’s wheat and grain farmers have been critical of some of Trump’s moves on trade, including withdrawing the United States from a multinational Pacific deal they believe imperils a burgeoning market in Japan, as well as the duties announced this week on Chinese goods.

McMorris Rodgers, who has tacitly aligned with Trump on issues such as tax reform but kept her distance from the president on certain public statements about women, said she shared those criticisms and is investigating ways Congress might be able to involve themselves more in trade deals.

“The president started with across-the-board tariffs on steel and aluminum,” McMorris Rodgers said. “From the very beginning, it should have been more targeted.

“I was concerned that, when you start with a worldwide approach, it starts trade wars.”

Trump announced tariffs on imported steel and aluminum on countries outside of North America in early March. China, in turn, announced its own duties on about $3 billion worth of American imports. When the Trump administration announced additional taxes on Chinese imports totaling $50 billion, the communist country responded in kind, adding Eastern Washington’s largest cash crop to its proposed list of American goods to be taxed.

After the interview with McMorris Rodgers on Thursday, Trump announced further escalation in the trade spat. In a statement released Thursday evening, Trump said his administration was exploring whether tariffs on $100 billion worth of Chinese goods would be appropriate. The president also said in the statement he’d instructed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to “use his broad authority to implement a plan to protect our farmers and agricultural interests.”

The fourth-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives said she personally urged Trump to consider the effect of his announcement to end the Pacific deal, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, on rural America. Like Trump, McMorris Rodgers has earned a large portion of her showing at the ballot box during a six-term stint in Congress in farming areas of the district.

“I remember being with him and conveying to him my concern as to the impact on farming,” McMorris Rodgers said. “And he said there would be lots of trade agreements, that he wanted bilateral trade agreements. He would prefer to do it, one country at a time. We need to impress on him the urgency of negotiating these bilateral trade agreements.”

After Trump announced the country’s intention to exit the Trans-Pacific deal, negotiated during the Obama administration, 11 remaining members of the pact signed their own agreement in March on the same day Trump announced the steel and aluminum tariffs. Trade organizations representing Washington wheat growers have estimated that the new deal between those nations, coupled with the lack of a bilateral agreement with the United States, could depress the price of a bushel of Northwest wheat, trading just below $6 a bushel on Thursday, by as much as 50 cents. Loss of Japanese sales could cost the wheat industry about $500 million each year, according to the Washington Association of Wheat Growers.

McMorris Rodgers said Congress had taken some steps to assume more oversight of the nation’s trade deals, citing legislation passed in 2015 during the Obama administration that renewed authority for the president to negotiate certain trade deals that also added several Congressional oversight provisions. But the congresswoman said she was interested in pursuing further actions to give lawmakers more say in trade.

“Trade negotiations, to date, have been under the administration, and under the president,” McMorris Rodgers said. “I am looking, right now, as to what are the options I have as a member of Congress to exercise, on behalf of the legislative branch, what influence we have over trade.”