A difficult ag market and concerns about trade and tariffs have been among the hot topics for U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., on his break from Washington this month.
Thune, who spoke to the Mitchell Rotary Club on Thursday at the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center, said everyone involved with production agriculture wants to know what is going to happen next to strike a deal and improve the market conditions.
“There are a few silver linings and bright spots but for the most part, the story this year for agriculture has been just a real sad tale,” Thune said. “You’ve got these chronically low prices and bad weather and people couldn’t plant and you’ve got the tariff issue that has shut down a lot of markets that would otherwise be available. It’s not a pretty picture, so we need to be doing everything we can to change it. Getting some trade done is job No. 1.”
Thune said a lot of energy is focused on passing the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, which is supposed to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. Those two countries are South Dakota’s largest ag trade partners outside the U.S., Thune said. Nationally, nearly 30 percent of the country’s farm and food exports went to Canada and Mexico. Thune said he hopes the agreement can be passed this fall.
The two agreements are similar but most notably from an ag standpoint, U.S. farmers would get more access to the Canadian dairy market, along with poultry and eggs. The deal would also have Canada terminate its wheat grading system, which would enable U.S. growers near the northern border to be more competitive, and the agreement specifically addresses ag biotechnology, such as gene editing, which the U.S. says would support innovation and reduces trade-distorting policies.
Mexico ratified the deal in June, but the U.S. and Canada still have to follow suit. Thune said the passage of trade deals with the country’s North American neighbors, Japan and the European Union would put the pressure on the primary trade foe at this time: China.
“The more you see success with trade deals, the more that tightens the noose around China’s neck,” Thune said. “That will get their attention.”
Thune also said some actions taken recently — such as changing the rule to allow cover crops to be harvested earlier from Nov. 1 to Sept. 1 — will provide a little help, but the work on trade and tariffs has be a priority.
“The administration is going to provide some assistance to help offset the impact of the tariffs but all of that is no substitute for a market and a price,” he said.
In a Q-and-A period from Rotary members, Thune was asked about mass shootings and concern about the events in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, from the weekend, in which more than 30 people were killed. Thune said “we’ve got to do everything we can to stop” mass shootings, but said the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution remains a key individual right for law-abiding citizens.
Thune said in evaluating recent mass shootings, a clear pattern has formed on the types of people who commit the attacks.
“If you look at the fact pattern for these last several attacks, most of them have been young men, most of them have been disenfranchised, most of them radicalized on social media platforms and many of them have telegraphed what they were going to do,” he said. “So for me, what we should be focusing on is how to catch these types of things before they happen. … We tend to focus on the weapons — and that can be a symptom — but we need to focus on what is causing this.”