DECATUR — U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis said he understands the concerns about how a potential trade war between the United States and China could hurt Central Illinois and its farmers.
Yet the Republican from Taylorville said Wednesday he was willing to wait and see whether the two nations could reach an agreement in the next six weeks before billions of dollars in tariffs affecting the United States are set to go in place.
“We have to do something about China, and we have six weeks for the administration to work with the Chinese government so we can reduce the opportunities for these unfair tariffs from China,” Davis said, “but do it in a way that really sends a message to China that they need to trade more fairly if they want to access our products and allow them to go into their market, and for their products to go into our markets.”
Davis' comments came during Wednesday’s monthly meeting of the Greater Decatur Chamber of Commerce, and just hours after Chinese officials announced they would levy an additional 25 percent levy on around $50 billion of U.S. imports including soybeans, automobiles, chemicals and aircrafts.
China’s decision is a response to the U.S. tariff hike on steel and aluminum that took effect March 23, as well as President Donald Trump’s administration pushes for possible higher duties on nearly $50 billion of Chinese goods in a separate argument over technology policy.
The tariff spat is one aspect of wide-ranging tensions between Washington, D.C., and Beijing over China's multibillion-dollar trade surplus with the United States and its policies on technology, industry development and access to its state-dominated economy.
Farms in Central Illinois and across the country could especially be hurt by the tariffs. American farm exports to China in 2017 totaled nearly $20 billion, including $1.1 billion of pork products.
Also Wednesday, the American Soybean Association, a lobbying group that says it represents 21,000 U.S. soybean producers, says China's proposed 25-percent tariff on soybeans would be "devastating" to U.S. farmers. China is the largest consumer of U.S. soybeans, buying about one-third of all U.S. soybean production each year, the group says.
Association President John Heisdorffer, an Iowa farmer, is calling on the Trump administration to withdraw its proposed tariffs and meet with soybean farmers to discuss ways to improve competitiveness without resorting to tariffs.
The association says soybean farmers lost an estimated $1.72 billion on Wednesday morning alone as soybean futures tumbled.
"That's real money lost for farmers, and it is entirely preventable," Heisdorffer says in a statement.
In addition, Illinois is the top soybean-producing state in the U.S.
Davis told the crowd of local business leaders that he understands the concerns, though he pointed to the Granite City steel mill, which announced in March it was re-opening in part because of the U.S. steel tariffs that took effect March 23, as a sign that something needed to be done to address the United States-Chinese trade relations. He said he has faith that officials like U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue can help the Trump administration find the right balance between protecting American exports to China while also addressing trade imbalance.
“This administration has got to work in a bilateral way to make sure we address the steel-dumping issue … we can address many of the issues in proposed retaliatory tariffs in those bilateral negotiations,” Davis said. “But let’s see what the final provisions are going to be in the next six weeks.
"If there still is an impact on this community, Illinois agriculture, then you’ll be seeing a lot of us fighting like heck to change that impact.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
This story will be updated