Our Voice: Congress must act to stop devastating ag tariffs

American News Editorial Board
Farm Forum

“Over the past several months, we have expressed serious concern that the steep drop in commodity and livestock prices linked to current U.S. trade policies and recently effectuated sanctions could push an alarming number of our state’s farms, ranches and rural areas to the brink of economic collapse.”

The brink of economic collapse.

This is not a line out of some dystopian novel.

This is how South Dakota’s Republican congressional delegation — Rep. Kristi Noem, Sen. Mike Rounds and Sen. John Thune — began their July 11 letter to the White House, just days after the U.S. imposed a 25 percent import tax on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods.

These are alarming words. As South Dakotans, we should be paying attention.

The recent tariffs placed on Chinese imports are an attempt to strong arm China into opening its markets to American goods, reducing its trade surplus within U.S. markets, and stopping intellectual property theft. China has responded to these tariffs by threatening and imposing similar levies on American products.

While bolstering our economy through import taxes may be well intended, Midwestern agricultural communities are already experiencing the negative impact of this international dispute. According to our legislators’ letter, trade uncertainty and lower commodity prices have already cost farmers and ranchers in our state “hundreds of millions of dollars they could not afford to lose.”

And this is just the beginning of what economists across the board are calling an all-out, no-backing-down trade war. In other words, it’s probably going to get worse before (and if) it gets better.

As China retaliates with its own levies on American products, including soybeans, our lawmakers’ choice of words in foreshadowing economic turmoil doesn’t seem like an exaggeration.

Their dire letter begs a followup: Shouldn’t Noem, Rounds and Thune be doing more to stop these tariffs? If such action will lead our state to “the brink of economic collapse,” shouldn’t our policymakers be enacting, well, different policy?

We did not elect our lawmakers to write bold letters. We elected them to make laws and to serve as a check to executive power.

Under the Supreme Law of the Land, it is the duty of Congress to lay and collect taxes, not the president. Article I, Section 8 in the Constitution clearly defines this as the Power of Congress. However, the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 allows a president to act unilaterally if there is a threat to national security, landing us in the situation we’re facing today.

Whether or not the situation with China constitutes as a threat to national security, economists — and our own lawmakers — predict these import taxes will have a catastrophic and long-lasting effect on our state’s economy and those across the Midwest. If there was ever a time for our Congress to challenge the status quo in the Trade Expansion Act, it seems that this is the time.

This is not about partisan politics or whether or not one likes the president. This is about the welfare of our community. As the letter states, agriculture is the “number one industry and the cornerstone of (our) economy” here in South Dakota. As the cornerstone, this is not just a rural problem. Those who live in our cities and towns depend on the agricultural economy for revenue, industry and jobs.

Rather than urging our president to back down, our legislators have the power given to them in the Constitution to curb executive power and stop the imposition of tariffs. They should. This is a dangerous gamble, and one that our state cannot afford.

We need our elected officials to stand up and fulfill their Constitutional duty.

After President Donald Trump slapped tariffs on $34 billions on Chinese goods — and after China answered with tariffs of its own on U.S. products — economists fear that China and the United States will be engaged in a full blown trade war. The American News Editorial Board writes that South Dakota’s congressional delegation should fight against agriculture tariffs on behalf of rural states. Tribune News Service photo illustration