LELAND — Idaho’s senior U.S. senator warned that the ongoing trade dispute with China could extend through the 2020 presidential election, with potentially devastating effects on American farmers.
“I can’t give you a light at the end of the tunnel,” said Sen. Mike Crapo, who met with about a half-dozen constituents during a short town hall meeting near Kendrick on Tuesday.
Bert Brocke, president of George F. Brocke & Sons, asked Crapo for his insights on the trade dispute. He noted that his business exports about 80 percent of the garbonzo beans, peas and lentils it buys from area farmers.
After President Donald Trump imposed stiff tariffs on a wide range of Chinese goods, China retaliated with a 25 percent tariff on a variety of U.S. agricultural products — including pulse crops.
“All it did was kill our prices and hurt us and our growers,” Brocke said.
Crapo said he “totally understands” the pain farmers are dealing with.
“You don’t see any benefit (from the trade dispute) and think we’re just giving markets to China,” he said. “I believe that. We’re seeing a similar deal with Micron (the Boise-based computer chip manufacturer); their tariffs are doing exactly what you’re talking about.”
Crapo said he would discuss Brocke’s concerns with the president. However, he also noted that he supports Trump’s get-tough-on-China approach.
“I’ve been been saying for years that we need a president who will stand up (to the anti-competitive practices of U.S. trade partners),” he said. “We’re losing billions from our economy every year through such activities. So I support the president doing something.”
Crapo sees a decent chance that Congress will approve the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal, which the Trump administration negotiated last year to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement.
He’s not as optimistic, though, about an end to the China dispute. While the two sides aren’t that far off when it comes to the substance of a new trade deal, there’s no agreement when it comes to enforcement provisions.
“Getting to the finish line with China, that’s where I’m pessimistic,” Crapo said. “I think the Chinese believe Trump won’t win re-election, so they’ve decided to wait him out. That means no movement until next November.”
Crapo also had nothing positive to offer when asked about the ever-growing national debt.
“We (Congress) haven’t even been able to adopt a budget in 10 years,” he noted.
Crapo has been part of several previous attempts to revise the federal government’s spending habits — including the 2010 Bowles-Simpson Plan, which Congress ultimately rejected.
“It required really tough decisions to be made,” Crapo said.
Barring a total collapse of the bond market — which would prevent the United States from borrowing enough money to finance its deficit spending — he sees no appetite from the president or Congress to address the problem.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “That’s a pessimistic answer, but it’s a realistic answer.”
Crapo’s remarks Tuesday weren’t all so bleak, however.
For example, in response to comments from former state Rep. Tom Trail, of Moscow, he discussed his bipartisan efforts with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., to stem the plague of unwanted “robo-calls” Americans deal with every day.
“We created an incentive for the phone companies to block the calls, once they’ve been identified,” Crapo said. “I want to take it a step further and prosecute those who are responsible, but we aren’t there yet.”
Tuesday’s town hall was hosted by Robert Blair at Blair Farms, a 116-year-old family farm located several miles from Kendrick.