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Cramer: Trade moves should avoid creating 'short-term victims'

Rep. Kevin Cramer answers questions from the Grand Forks Herald editorial board. Joshua Komer / Forum News Service file photo

BISMARCK — Rep. Kevin Cramer highlighted farmers' anxiety over the Trump administration's trade moves Wednesday, May 16, but the North Dakota Republican expressed support for the long-term goal of balancing relations with China.

Cramer, an ally of President Donald Trump who is running for U.S. Senate this year, testified during a hearing held by the U.S. Trade Representative's office on proposed tariffs on $50 billion of Chinese imports. The tariffs are in response to China's "unfair trade practices," the office said.

In retaliation for the Trump administration's proposed tariffs, China recently announced duties on a range of U.S. products, including soybeans. About 70 to 75 percent of North Dakota's soybeans are sold to ports in the Pacific Northwest, Cramer said, and most of them end up in China.

In prepared remarks, Cramer said "while some disruption may be a necessary part of the negotiation process, it should not all be done on the backs of our farmers."

Cramer said in an interview that tariffs are a "fairly blunt instrument" that Trump has used to bring people to the bargaining table after previous administrations have allowed trading partners to "sort of cheat us." But he said he prefers using "existing infrastructure" like the World Trade Organization.

"Our concern and my expression today was let's not let the long-term goals create short-term victims, because for agriculture the short term is the long term in many cases," he said.

Two rounds of Chinese tariffs that included soybeans have not yet gone into effect, said North Dakota Trade Office Executive Director Simon Wilson. In his prepared remarks, Cramer asked to "narrow the scope" of aluminum and steel tariffs to blunt the impact on North Dakota's manufacturing and energy industries.

Cramer is challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp this year and has been criticized by the North Dakota Democratic-NPL in recent weeks for too closely aligning himself with Trump instead of worried farmers. Last week, the party's executive director said Cramer "would rather play politics with our farmers' futures and advance his own career every time."

Cramer dismissed criticism from the other side of the aisle and said his testimony was "consistent with what I've been saying all along."

Heitkamp last week called for a study on the impact of the Trump administration's trade policies on small businesses, warning retaliatory tariffs "could deal a real blow" to those companies.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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