Farm leaders from around North Dakota got a chance to hear from U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and other officials regarding trade and tariffs Friday.
The meeting was arranged by Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. and held at the White House. It included eight North Dakotans who farm or are involved in farm-related industries including Barry Voulek, owner of Four Star Agriculture at Oakes, and Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown.
Wanzek operates a farm in the Jamestown area.
In March, President Donald Trump announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imported from China. In May, those tariffs were expanded to include Canada, Mexico and Europe. Those countries have announced tariffs on American goods, including farm commodities exported from the United States to them.
“It was very interesting,” Wanzek said of the meeting. “I came away with a little more confidence there is a strategy and an end game to this.”
The farmers told Ross that tariff concerns were “creating a situation that was making us a bit nervous,” Wanzek said.
“Without exports,” he said, “we only need half the farmers we have in North Dakota.”
Wanzek said Ross, along with U.S. Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky, told the farmers that President Donald Trump does understand that exports and trade are important for farmers.
The federal officials reported that a new version of the North American Free Trade Agreement was nearly complete, although agreements with China may be further off.
“I don’t know if that will be solved by harvest,” Wanzek said.
Wanzek said Ross and Censky told the group there are legitimate concerns with Chinese trade practices and its theft of intellectual property such as copyrights and patents.
“If they are stolen it defeats the purpose,” he said, referring to the process of inventing new technology. “China has not been following the trade rules.”
Officials assured the farmers that the tariffs were being done with the intent to solve problems such as the trade imbalance and the theft of technology, Wanzek said.
“They assured us they understand the concerns of farmers,” he said, “and that the ultimate goal is a better deal.”