Taking Action for Smart Trade Policies to Support North Dakota Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Energy

In Langdon last month, I convened a roundtable discussion with farmers, ranchers, agriculture leaders, and lenders about North Dakota priorities I fought for in the bipartisan Senate-passed Farm Bill, my plan for the upcoming Farm Bill conference committee negotiations, and the damaging impact of the administration’s escalating trade war.

I’m working to promote smart trade policies that expand — not shrink — markets for North Dakota producers. As I’ve traveled across the state, I’ve heard strong fears about the administration’s intensifying trade war.

“It’s a disaster. We literally might be piling the beans on the ground with no one wanting to buy them and nowhere to sell them.” —Mayor Justin Sherlock of Dazey & a soybean farmer

As harvest begins across North Dakota, it’s a reminder that our producers have spent years developing their export markets — and now it’s very possible that those critical trade relationships could vanish within the span of just one growing season due to the administration’s misguided trade war. That’s unacceptable, and we need to make sure rural America’s voice is heard in Washington.

That’s why I’m fighting for our farmers, ranchers, and production economy amid massive uncertainty and working to expand access to markets, including by:

  • Introducing legislation to help farmers and ranchers recover losses they face because of the administration’s trade war. Last month I introduced a bill to help provide some assistance to farmers at no additional cost. My bill would make Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) directly available to all producers whose exports have been hurt by tariffs — at no additional cost. My legislation would give them some short-term peace of mind that they’ll be able to access help if they need it — but the only truly long-term solution to strengthen our farm economy is to stop this reckless trade war. I also introduced a bill to direct funds the government is collecting from tariffs on imported goods — billions of dollars — toward trade promotion assistance to help open new markets for farmers and ranchers hurt by the trade war.
  • Pressing top officials since the beginning of this administration to protect and expand markets for North Dakota goods. I’ve met with the U.S. Agriculture Secretary (USDA), U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), U.S Commerce Secretary, and many other top U.S. administration officials — including the president— to explain that the U.S. needs smart trade policies to allow our farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers to reach new markets — not tariffs, uncertainty with NAFTA, or hostility toward our top trading partners. Recently, I pushed Jerome Powell, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, on the impact of the administration’s trade war on the U.S. economy. You can watch my remarks below.

Chairman Powell agreed that imposing tariffs over a sustained period time is the wrong thing to do for the economy.

During our meeting with the Mexican Ambassador to the United States, we also discussed the president’s tariffs on aluminum and steel that were imposed on allies like Mexico and Canada. Such actions hurt discussions on NAFTA and create more uncertainty for North Dakota’s farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers. Photo credit: Embassy of Mexico in the U.S.

Here’s what Carson Klosterman, then-President of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association, had to say about that meeting:

“The meeting with the Mexican Ambassador organized by Senator Heitkamp was exactly the kind of outreach North Dakota producers need in uncertain times. If we’re not engaged with our biggest customers, we’re not doing everything we can to preserve and expand markets for North Dakota goods like corn. North Dakota producers need trade issues to be resolved quickly, and the meeting held with the Mexican Ambassador was a major step in reaffirming how important these trade relationships are to the success of the North Dakota’s agriculture economy.”

Additionally, here’s what Dan Wogsland, Executive Director of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association (NDGGA), wanted to say about the breakfast summit:

“NDGGA would like to thank Senator Heitkamp for the opportunity to meet Ambassador Gerónimo Gutiérrez and to discuss U.S.-Mexican trade relations including the NAFTA negotiations. Trade with Mexico is essential to North Dakota agriculture especially to North Dakota barley producers. Our meeting with Ambassador Gutierrez provided NDGGA with an excellent opportunity to provide and receive input on issues surrounding this very important trading partner for North Dakota.”
  • In frequent meetings and phone calls with the Mexican and Canadian Ambassadors to the U.S., I’ve worked to protect the trade relationships that keep North Dakotas export-dependent economy thriving. I’ve been bringing the concerns of North Dakotans to the leaders of our top international trading partners — such as the Canadian Ambassador to the United States and Deputy Ambassador to the United States.
  • Supporting bipartisan legislation to stop the tariffs. I recently joined my colleague U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) in leading a bipartisan group of eight other senators in introducing legislation to require congressional approval of tariffs designated for national security reasons — such as the steel and aluminum tariffs. I also cosponsored bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) from Arizona to nullify the aluminum and steel tariffs.
  • Gaining input from North Dakotans. Over the past few weeks, I’ve held meetings to discuss North Dakota’s Farm Bill and trade priorities with farmers and ranchers in Kindred, Richardton, Grand Forks, Dickinson, Mandan, Minot, Carrington, Wahpeton, Langdon, and Rugby. I’ve heard Mayor Sherlock’s sentiment echoed in community centers, local libraries, quonsets, and research extension centers across our state.
At my Farm Bill and trade policy discussion held in Rugby earlier this month, I heard from ag leaders about how a strong Farm Bill can give them the safety net need they need — particularly as they face an uncertain trade environment caused by tariffs, the withdrawal from TPP, and NAFTA renegotiation.
  • Meeting with folks from North Dakota impacted by trade, including recent meetings in Washington with North Dakota growers of soybeans, corn, barley, and other commodities, as well as manufacturers and small business owners.
Outside of Grand Forks, I heard from local farmers and ranchers about their need for certainty. At a time when farmers are rightfully concerned about the administration’s trade policies, passing a strong Farm Bill on time is even more important than ever to give our producers the peace of mind they need.
  • Launching a web survey to gain input from North Dakotans to help inform how she can best push back on the administration’s actions on trade.
  • Raising concerns about impacts of retaliatory tariffs on the manufacturing industry. I recently toured WCCO Belting, Inc. in Wahpeton and heard firsthand the concerns the North Dakota manufacturer has about trade wars and its ability to export its goods. Over half of WCCO’s sales are to international customers, making trade an essential part of its business model.
At WCCO in Wahpeton, I heard firsthand how harmful trade policies could stifle their ability to grow and add more North Dakota jobs.
  • Speaking out against tariffs and uncertainty regarding NAFTA that would put our state’s economy at risk, such as in this interview on CNBC.
  • Pressing for analysis about the impact of the administration’s trade policies on small businesses. I recently called on the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Office of Advocacy to analyze the impact of the administration’s tariff policies on American small businesses. Small businesses represent nearly 99 percent of all businesses in North Dakota, and support nearly 60 percent of all jobs in the state, according to SBA.
  • Introducing a bill to help U.S. producers hurt by the trade war. I introduced a bill to direct funds the government is collecting from tariffs on imported goods — already over $3.5 billion — toward trade promotion assistance to help open new markets for farmers and ranchers hurt by the trade war.
  • Pushing for a strong, bipartisan 2018 Farm Bill that provides much-need certainty to crop and livestock producers. Last week, I released the latest episode of my podcast, “The Hotdish,” featuring interviews with Tom Vilsack — former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Governor of Iowa — and Ryan Pederson — a North Dakota farmer and Vice President of the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association. In addition to discussing the 2018 Farm Bill’s wide-ranging impact on rural America, Vilsack and Pederson also shared their concerns about the administration’s trade war and the economic uncertainty it’s causing for farmers and ranchers. Listen below.

In nearly every conversation I’ve had with hard-working North Dakota farmers and ranchers, their chief concern is a trade war and the rampant uncertainty caused by alienating our closest trading partners with tariffs. Why? Because countries like Canada, Mexico, and China are their biggest international customers.

Farmers know that tariffs are like a wrecking ball to our trading partnerships — they do a lot of long-term damage, and they can do harm in unpredictable ways.

Tariffs on Chinese goods, for instance, have triggered retaliatory action that could be crippling for North Dakota soybean farmers, who export 71 percent of their product to Asia — primarily China. If our soybean farmers lose access to China, countries like Brazil and Argentina are waiting in the wings to take our market share, and there’s no easy way to get that market share back once we lose it.

Just this week, a Chinese trade delegation planning to meet with North Dakota bean, pea, and lentil growers abruptly cancelled a visit to discuss buying additional orders — all due to concerns over the administration’s misguided trade decisions. This administration continues to play chicken with China, and that’s not helpful to North Dakota farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers who are caught in the middle as collateral damage.

North Dakota farmers have weathered tough times before — from the dust bowl in the thirties to the farm crisis in the eighties — and we’ll sure as heck do it again. But that means we need to be ready to push back against senseless trade moves that could put the existence of our rural economy at risk.

As I continue to represent the priorities of North Dakota in the U.S. Senate and look to protect our ag economy during the upcoming Farm Bill conference negotiations, you’d better believe that I’m ready to keep fighting for a bipartisan, commonsense fix to this mess of a trade war. And I’ll push for a bipartisan Farm Bill that gives some additional certainty to our farmers amid trade uncertainty and low commodity prices.

North Dakota’s farmers and ranchers want and need access to markets to sell their goods, and I’m working to promote my trade philosophy that we need to engage — not disengage.

The lesson couldn’t be more clear: right now, we need smart trade policies — not trade wars — so North Dakota can continue to feed and fuel the world while keeping our rural communities strong.