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Remarks by Secretary Wilbur L. Ross at Trade Town Hall Meeting at North Dakota State College of Science in Fargo


It is a pleasure to be here with all of you in North Dakota. You live up to your state’s motto — strength from the soil.

You sell $5 billion a year of soybeans, wheat, and corn, and produce enough beef to make more than 100 million hamburgers annually. Harold Hamm and others kicked off the shale oil and gas boom that has made our country the new energy powerhouse it is.

These factors plus your manufacturing enterprises are why your unemployment rate is only 2.6 percent, the second lowest in the country. Thank you for your important contribution to America’s economic growth, and its energy and food security.

We also know that because exports are so important to your state, you are naturally concerned about the implications of President Trump’s trade policies. I am here with the Congressman Cramer, and Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Censky, to discuss them with you.

You are aware that we have huge deficits due to highly protectionist policies of our major trading partners. You know from your own experience the tariff and non-tariff trade barriers they erect against our agriculture.

It all started right after World War II. Back then, the U.S. had regular trade surpluses and the supremely dominant world economy. Our stated policy was to help Europe and Asia recover from the ravages of war, so we created the Marshall Plan and other aid programs, and we made all sorts of trade concessions.

These were good short-term decisions but should have been time limited. Instead, we locked them in permanently, first with the GATT, and then with the World Trade Organization. But concessions that were appropriate when Germany, Japan, and China had small and fragile economies are no longer remotely appropriate.

It took these mistakes until the 1970s to turn our surpluses into deficits and now we are the least protectionist of any major country. Our leaders compounded those fundamental errors with two more bad decisions. 

NAFTA enabled Mexico to move from four to five billion dollar annual deficits with us to huge trade surpluses. Since NAFTA, our cumulative deficit with Mexico is more than one trillion dollars.

The second bad decision was letting China into the WTO on the theory that they would live by the rules. But we failed to put in place a strong enforcement mechanism in case they did not. Now, we lose a trillion dollars to them ever three years.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative compiles an annual report of foreign trade barriers. This year’s report is 491 pages, describing every type of trade barrier imaginable confronting U.S. producers and U.S. exporters.

Many of the products produced by American farmers face indiscriminate trade barriers. For instance, South Korea has a ban on imported U.S. potatoes allegedly due to the potato spindle tuber viroid.

However, it turns out that this disease does not exist in U.S. potato production areas. Argentina has banned all imports of cattle, pork, and poultry from the United States.

Australia bans the importation of apples from the United States. And as you know, the Canadian Grain Commission has erected barriers to U.S. grain with restrictive inspection certificates and a grading system used only for Canadian grains.

China’s 2015 Food Safety Law has created unnecessary product registration requirements on grains and oilseeds, as well many other agricultural products. China refuses to open markets to numerous U.S. agricultural products based on regulations that ban the use of biotechnology.

The European Union has erected dozens of non-tariff barriers to U.S. products, by adopting regulations, standards, and labeling requirements that discriminate against American agricultural products. The EU has regulations that ban the importation of meat raised with hormones, despite scientific evidence demonstrating that such meat is safe for consumers.

Our farms are the most innovative and productive in the world, but our growth in international markets is being stymied by hundreds of foreign trade barriers.

For too long, the U.S. government overlooked many of these barriers.

Today, an important objective of President Trump’s trade policy is reforming the prior errors made by our government. We are locked into the present trading system with rules created for a different era. The United States is the least protectionist of all the major countries, and we have the trade deficits to show for it. China and Europe are highly protectionist and their positive trade balances with us reflect it.

We have responded with trade actions to protect our intellectual property, and to assure that we have an aluminum and steel industry that can provide for the needs of our military. These trade actions have been a long time in coming.

Since the beginning of the Trump Administration, the Commerce Department has initiated 216 percent more trade cases than during the comparable period in the previous administration. President Trump’s goal is to level the playing field for American farmers, ranchers, miners, manufacturers, service providers, and American workers.

For the first time in decades, we have gotten the attention of our trading partners. We have moved beyond rhetoric and empty talk. Hundreds of people in the federal agencies and the White House are working with our trading partners to level the playing field for American producers, and exporters.

Our intent is to open global markets for your products, so that you can maximize your exports, and grow your businesses. They will not make concessions unless it is more painful for them to continue their bad behavior than to drop it. They retaliated in an effort to make us back off, but they know that because they sell us so more than we sell them, they would run out of targets before we do.

Exports also are bigger percentages of their economies than of our and the fundamental economic momentum of the U.S. is stronger than most of theirs. All of a sudden, they are rushing to the U.S. to negotiate, knowing that on balance they must make concessions. Meanwhile, they hope that retaliation will put political pressure on the president and make him back down. As they gradually realize that they are incorrect, we will be able to strike more beneficial deals. 

We know that most Americans, especially our farmers, are true patriots who want free and reciprocal trade, not aid. But to show his conviction to support American farmers who have been victimized by retaliations, the President has authorized Secretary Perdue to use up to $13 billion to help tide farmers over during this tough period.

We will try to bring this dispute to as quick a resolution – and a fair resolution – as we can. I promise you that we know that uncertainty is a horrible situation, but we feel that if we do not fix our bad trade deals now, things will only get worse.

Many of you trusted the President in November of 2016 and voted for him. Trust him now and you will be happy with the long-term results. As Benjamin Franklin famously said during the Revolution, “we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”