EXCLUSIVE – Steve King on Tariffs: ‘We’ve Still Got Scars’ from Jimmy Carter’s ‘Farm Crisis Decade’

Iowa pig farm
Charlie Riedel/AP

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) expressed worries of escalating Chinese tariffs on American exports during a Friday interview with host Rebecca Mansour and guest host Frances Martel during SiriusXM’s Breitbart News Tonight.

King recalled Jimmy Carter’s 1980 grain embargo against the Soviet Union, worrying that Iowan farmers would be hurt by China’s implementation of tariffs against exports of U.S. foodstuffs. “I had my opinions going into this, and I’ve been travelling all over the northwest particular part of Iowa and meeting with manufacturers and agricultural producers and equipment dealers and community leaders and we’re all of the same mind, that we remember what happened when Jimmy Carter embargoed the grain exports to the Soviet Union,” he recalled. “He launched that on January 4, 1980, and that was just the fourth day of the new decade, and that entire decade turned into a farm crisis decade, and I turned into the congressman that has actually been burned and buried more family farm building sites than anybody else in the United States Congress. I lived through that in the hardest way, and we’ve still got scars from that decade.”

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“It wasn’t the fault of the farmers, their markets were shut down,” continued King. “When this happens it’s not the fault of our farmers and not the fault of our manufacturers, but they’re watching their markets shut down and they have scars from that decade like I do. It’s mostly the younger generation, now, that’s out there operating, but they remember. They grew up in the middle of this, and so I surely don’t want to see another trade war. That’s my concern. I know that the president is a multidimensional strategist and negotiator and I’m hopeful that somehow throughout all this we can find a way out of it and get our markets back and get it stabilized again, and I don’t want to bend over again and kowtow to the Chinese in the process.”

King noted the fungibility and global demand for foodstuffs as a partial protection for the economic fortunes of Iowan food producers. “There are just so many hungry mouths on the planet, and wherever you ship that food around it’s going to find its way in the pipeline to the hungry mouths,” said King. “So that’s one of the ways China could be increasing the costs of their own food.”

King added, “I think there’s some ways that, especially the food products, can be transferred around the world, but there’s also intense competition. Our pork exports got hit really hard going into China, and we know that Brazil is competing for that market. Australia’s competing for that market. The Danes are actually competing for that market, too. So the competition, and the basis of it, who’s got the best trade routes, that all makes a difference. In the end, I don’t know how we get out of this thing in a smooth way.”

King highlighted the impact of Chinese tariffs on American pork exports on Smithfield Foods as ironic, given the Chinese state’s ownership of the company. “While we’re on that topic, there is a large pork production company in the U.S. that was vertically integrated. They own a lot of their own hogs, not all of them, they run the sows farrow-to-finish and they do the slaughter and processing all the way to the packaged meat shipped all the way to China. The company, now bought by the Chinese, and the irony is that the U.S. company that was built in the United States, now owned by the Chinese, has to pay tariffs on pork to coming out of the U.S. into China that they actually own because they bought the company. There’s a little bit of poetic justice in that, and I’m kind of thinking they’ll be lobbying the Chinese government for some relief on this. It’s one thing we have going in our favor. It’s a piece of it. It’s not the whole piece by any means.”

American food exporters would have to find new markets as a result of China’s tariffs, said King. “By making it harder to export our grain and our food products — our meat and our grains — not being able to go directly to China, that means we have to find multiple other markets and multiple other trade routes to bring it back around, and that takes time to get it all set up,” he explained. “Meanwhile, if there’s extra grain and extra food, meat and grains in the pipeline, that backs up in the pipeline and then the local markets here, our grain elevators our buyers of hogs and cattle, they’re going to market, when they’ve got all they need, those prices drop dramatically, and we seen that push back right to the farm with significant drops in soybean prices — 40 cents a bushel, almost overnight — and heavy cuts in our pork exports, too.”

King also noted unique liquidity challenged faced by the food industry, saying, “By the way, they can’t just shut this off and do a layoff and start all over again. When you’re running stock cows, those cows need to bred, they need to be having calves. You have to stay in the business or get out and go broke, and you’ve go to be there for the good times and the bad times. When this crop gets planted out here in the field, where I’m looking right now as we speak, I’m looking at the beautiful horizon off to the just-setting sun here in Iowa, when that crop is planted, that’s what you have and whatever God or mother nature hands you, you have to find a way to get that into the market at the best price possible. We remember what happened here in the 80s and we surely don’t want to see this happen again.”

King warned that the Trump administration’s steel tariffs could exacerbate the loss of manufacturing jobs to China. “I surely understand what’s happened throughout the Rust Belt, those manufacturing jobs left and went to places like China,” stated King. “Yet this tariff on steel that the president has brought on, and exempted Canada and Mexico, it’s a tariff on raw steel, plate steel, non-processed steel. I went to a manufacturing operation a couple of day ago here in Rock Valley, Iowa, and he brought out a plate of steel that was about two feet by four feet, plain steel, 25 percent tariff on that steel coming in out of China, foreign countries all together, and then next to it was a piece of steel same size, they’d bent it a couple of times and bored a couple of three-holes in it, that as processed steel, and that would come back from China without tariff. What that means is that we have to pay a premium for the steel coming out of a number of countries — South Korea, China, and many others — but there is no tariff on the steel if it has value added to it by being processed, say being bent and shaped and cut into the pieces that’ll be used by the manufacturers. That says that it’s more likely to see manufacturing jobs go to China so they can ship their steel here without a tariff penalty, and that’s really troubling to think that our manufacturing jobs that have left the Rust Belt, those we have left can be accelerated to China. I’m troubled by that. Both sides of this equation don’t seem to look very good. They don’t look very good for the West, that I’m sure of.

The Trump administration’s steel tariffs, said King, do not target value-added steel products, rendering Chinese exports of processed steel products immune. He said, “Back to the steel situation, there are about 16,000 steel mill jobs in the United States that are protected by this tariff, but there are 1.6 million steel manufacturing companies that add value to steel. So, there are 1.6 million jobs at risk to protect 16 thousand jobs. That ratio is bad.”

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Follow Robert Kraychik on Twitter @rkraychik.

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