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Bjorkman berates inaction on China 'trade war'

Democratic Congressional Candidate Tim Bjorkman speaks during a public event at Java City in the George McGovern Library on Wednesday on Dakota Wesleyan University's campus. (Matt Gade / Republic)1 / 2
Democratic Congressional Candidate Tim Bjorkman speaks with Dakota Wesleyan University seniors Amy Zeller, left, of Elk Point, and Erik Wehlander, of Huron, following a speech by Bjorkman at Java City in the George McGovern Library on Wednesday on DWU's campus. (Matt Gade / Republic)2 / 2

Small South Dakota businesses are being "shoved into the front lines of a trade war," congressional candidate Tim Bjorkman declared Wednesday in Mitchell, reacting to news reports that China intends to slap a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybean imports.

South Dakota is an ag state, said Bjorkman, a former circuit court judge and pro-life Democrat from Canistota.

"We're already facing low commodity prices and a tough outlook going into the spring," Bjorkman said before a gathering of 30 students and others on the campus of Dakota Wesleyan University.

China announced plans Wednesday morning to tax U.S. soybeans in retaliation for the trade sanctions recently announced by President Donald Trump. China's announcement follows on its earlier plans to tax U.S. pork by 25 percent and ethanol by 15 percent,

Soybeans are the top U.S. agricultural export to China, which purchases 61 percent of total U.S. soybean exports, and more than 30 percent of overall U.S. soybean production, according to the American Soybean Association.

"The impact could be quite serious," Bjorkman said.

So far there has only been talk of tariffs. Trump's tariffs would not take effect before the end of May after a period of public comment. Chinese officials say implementation depends on whether the U.S. president implements his tariff plans.

Trump defended his actions with tweets after China's Wednesday announcement, apparently referencing the $566 billion U.S. deficit in goods and services trade. He blamed his predecessors for the lopsided U.S.-China trade relationship.

"We are not in a trade war with China, that war was lost many years ago by the foolish, or incompetent, people who represented the U.S. Now we have a Trade Deficit of $500 Billion a year, with Intellectual Property Theft of another $300 Billion. We cannot let this continue!" Trump wrote.

Trump kicked off threats of an escalating trade war on March 8 with an announcement of tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum.

Political analysts at the time noted the president's actions could be an attempt to shore up his political base in the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Trump's statement fell less than one week before Democrat Conor Lamb eked out a victory March 13 in Pennsylvania's heavily Republican 18th congressional district.

Analysts said Wednesday's that China's threats against agricultural products may be focused on farm states, which generally backed Trump in the 2016 election, attempting to create pressure to stop the tariffs.

"It's my sense," Bjorkman said, "that South Dakota and the Heartland have been thrown under the bus at the expense of other people."

Trade policy is the kind of thing that calls for prudent, deliberate action and forethought, achieved in collaboration with Congress, he said.

"It looks like that is not happening."

In the end, Bjorkman said, the president's tariffs fail to adequately address the core issue of Chinese overcapacity in steel and aluminum.

Bjorkman said Congress could stop Trump's trade war.

Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution places the duty and authority for international trade on Congress, he said. The president's powers result from a ceding of authority by legislative action, and Congress could rescind it, he said.

South Dakota's current congressional delegation, however, "is not willing to do any more than wring their hands," Bjorkman said.