SIOUX CITY -- Rep. Steve King acknowledged Wednesday that China's retaliatory tariffs on U.S. soybeans and pork threaten to harm many young farmers in Iowa's 4th District, but warned it wouldn't make sense for the Trump administration to "surrender" in its trade talks with the Asian nation.
In an interview with the Journal editorial board, the veteran GOP congressman made it clear he was not in favor of President Trump's decision to start a trade war with China. But now that the two countries are engaged in negotiations, it's incumbent for the U.S. to strike the best deal possible.
"There's no guarantee the Chinese will say, 'We can go back to the way we were,'" King told the editorial board. "If we call a truce, that might mean the Chinese will say, 'Now we really have you on the run and we're going to start slapping more retaliatory tariffs on you until we find out what the U.S. limit is.'"
King added the U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports are putting pressure on China to ratchet down its theft of U.S. intellectual property, which is estimated at more than $5 billion annually.
Trump has complained about America's gaping trade deficit — $336 billion last year — with China, its biggest trading partner. The trade war escalated further in September, with China announcing retaliatory tax increases on $60 billion worth of U.S. imports. The increases were in response to the U.S. announcing it will impose tariffs of 10 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese-made goods.
King's opponent, Democrat J.D. Scholten of Sioux City, has made the trade war with China a top issue in his bid to upset the eight-term incumbent in the heavily Republican district, which is also the most rural of Iowa's four congressional districts. Scholten has warned many district farmers and ag businesses could go bust due to the tariffs, which have sent soybean and pork prices spiraling downward.
King said he believes older farmers with cash reserves are in a position to withstand the trade dispute until a deal is reached, which he predicts will happen in the next few months. But he worries about younger farmers who rent farmland and also have borrowed heavily to finance machinery.
The Trump administration announced a plan in June to provide $12 billion in aid to help farmers hurt by tariffs. While King has spoken in favor of the proposal, he realizes it's not a popular option with producers.
"What they are saying is, we need trade, not aid," he said.
King said he has been buoyed by other trade deals the Trump administration has brokered in recent months that will create new markets for U.S. agriculture products. He mentioned a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, and new agreements with the European Union and Taiwan.
The additional exports to those nations could approach the lost trade with China in the short term, King said. After negotiating a new deal with China, the ag sector could end up "better off," he said.
On another ag-related topic, King praised Trump for his administrative order to allow sales of gas blended with 15 percent ethanol to be sold at the pump year round, not just in the summer. King said increased E-15 sales could lead to the processing of an additional 700 billion bushels of corn.
Trump touted the new policy during a campaign stop Tuesday night in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where the president gave a shout out to King, saying he "may be the world's most conservative human being."
King said he likes Trump's achievements during his first two years in office. In April, he told a Journal reporter that Trump was performing at a nine on a scale of 10. On Wednesday, King raised that score to a 9.5.
He said people get wrapped up trying to judge Trump on his history or personality, but should instead review his accomplishments.
"We have tax cuts and we have deregulation, and we have a much, much stronger foreign policy that is moving in the right direction in a significant way. Our military is being restored," King said.
King also raved about Trump's interpersonal skills.
"He's got a good memory and he's got a quick recall. But his instincts are the piece that people have misjudged on him. He operates with confidence on his instincts, just in a moment, which means he can address a lot of subject matter quickly," the congressman said.