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VP Pence Defends Trump Trade Policies In Cedar Rapids Visit

Kate Payne / IPR
Vice President Mike Pence defended the president's trade policies as beneficial to Iowa's economy at an event in Cedar Rapids.

Vice President Mike Pence Wednesday defended the Trump administration's trade policies as good for Iowa's economy. In a visit to Cedar Rapids, Pence said the Trump White House will "always stand with American farmers".

At a time when some Iowa farmers and manufacturers are increasingly worried about the impacts of the administration's tariffs on foreign goods, Pence made a whole-hearted endorsement of the policies.

“The truth of the matter is, is the president really does believe, and we all believe, that for too long America’s trading relationships with many of our leading trade partners have been too one-sided, with those countries having unbridled access to our marketplace and our consumers,” he said.

Pence visited the aerospace company Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids and addressed a room of around 130 workers, many of whom are active in the business's employee political action committee. But his comments weren't limited to Rockwell Collins' operations.

“And speaking of farmers, let me just say, we’ve also, we’ve also been working on expanding access to American agricultural goods around the world," Pence said. "We’ve taken decisive action to lower trade barriers to American agricultural exports.”

The comments come days after President Trump threatened another round of tariffson $200 billion worth of Chinese imports. The country is one of Iowa's key trading partners, and Pence's statements were in stark contrast to the message from some farmers and manufacturers in the state.

"And speaking of farmers, let me just say...we've also been working on expanding access to American agricultural goods around the world." - Vice President Mike Pence

The Iowa Soybean Association has called the tariffs on Chinese imports the industry's "worst fears." The group's board of directors released a statement earlier this month saying retaliation against the policies is driving U.S. soybean prices below the cost of production.

"This aggressive action positions Iowa and America’s soybean farmers directly in the crosshairs of a full-scale, multi-national trade war if China, as it has promised, imposes tariffs on U.S. soybean imports," the statement read.

Rockwell Collins issued a limited statement on the impact of the Trump administration's tariffs on its own operations. The company is Cedar Rapids' largest employer, with about 9,000 workers across the state, and some 30,000 worldwide. With operations in 150 countries on five continents, Rockwell Collins depends on strong international partnerships.

"We encourage the Governments to continue to negotiate appropriate trade agreements to successfully resolve the trade differences between the respective countries," spokeswoman Pam Tvrdy-Cleary said in a written statement.

But the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance has been more explicit in its criticism of what it labels a trade war, and vocal in its support for "free and fair trade policies." In a letter to the business advocacy group's members, Executive Director Doug Neumann said Iowa's economy is "inextricably linked to international trade" at the state and local level.

“I’ve talked to local business using large quantities of imported steel or aluminum that have seen material prices 25 to 40 percent this summer. For some, it’s already affecting businesses. And for exporters, the impact might be even worse,” Neumann wrote.

Meanwhile, parts manufacturer Black Cat Wear Parts announced this week it's cutting 10 of the 36 jobs at its DeWitt, Iowa plant and sending production abroad because of the Trump adminstration's tariffs on imported steel. Still, the plant's manager called the decision to downsize the company's only U.S.-based facility "temporary", saying it's just a matter of time before "the trade winds" blow the other way.

"This aggressive action positions Iowa and America's soybean farmers directly in the crosshairs of a full-scale, multi-national trade war." - Joint Statement by Iowa Soybean Association Directors

Plant manager Josh Daniel said sending 80 percent of the facility's steel production to Canada, where the company is based, doesn't happen at the flip of a switch. But if the president rescinded the tariffs, the company could shift back "relatively quickly", Daniel said.

"I believe time is on our side right now," he said. "Of course it doesn't matter for those 10 [workers] right now."

But even if the Trump administration rolled back the tariffs, Daniel said the steel Black Cat Wear Parts relies on isn't currently made in the U.S., forcing the company to turn to international producers. 

But the struggles of companies like Black Cat Wear Parts, and the complex trading relationships Iowa businesses rely on, weren't readily apparent in Pence's comments in Cedar Rapids.

"I'm telling you, Iowa is back. America is back. And we're just getting started at getting this economy growing again," Pence said.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter