Nebraskans in Congress reach consensus: tariffs, bad; trade, good

August 10, 2018 GMT

Politics and business met halfway between Omaha and Lincoln Thursday and reached a consensus: trade, good; tariffs, bad.

Nebraska’s five-person congressional delegation, reinforced by an executive from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, delivered that message to a 300-person audience invited by the chambers of commerce of Lincoln, Omaha and Nebraska to the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum near Ashland.

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse said the state is being harmed by “terrible” import taxes imposed by the Trump administration.

“It isn’t just that we in the federal government are taking some ill-advised steps with regard to trade,” Sasse said. “It’s that the public is really drifting on trade in ways that are dangerous for America but critically dangerous for Nebraska.”

Public opinion is turning against free trade, he said, because of “bad rhetoric coming out of Washington” and bad reporting on trade issues by news media.


Nebraska is the most trade-dependent state per person in the nation, he said, because of its fertile land and efficient agriculture. “We need export markets for our state’s economy not to collapse. ... When there’s more trade in the world, everybody wins.”

More Americans are starting to believe that when there’s more trade, U.S. consumers have cheap goods but the country loses jobs, he said. “That is fundamentally not true,” he said. Although the U.S. imports more products than it sells, it makes up that product deficit by selling services such as accounting, engineering and financial planning.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, being renegotiated with Canada and Mexico, has created jobs in all three counties, Sasse said, contrary to what many U.S. citizens hear. He called on the business people at the meeting to be advocates for more international trade.

Rep. Adrian Smith said he thinks a new NAFTA agreement is “on the verge of completion,” although some issues with Canada remain unresolved.

Noting that tariffs add costs, he said, “I think that increasing the cost of goods, whether it’s here or in another country, that tends to undermine economic growth.”

Neil Bradley, chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber in Washington, D.C., said tariffs imposed by Canada, Mexico, the European Union and China in retaliation for $75 billion in tariffs imposed by the U.S. government apply to $327 million worth of Nebraska’s exports each year.

That figure would grow if President Donald Trump follows through with stated plans to add hundreds of billions more in tariffs, Bradley said. “All of those, if they proceed, will invite retaliatory tariffs that would make what we’re currently experiencing look like a minor roadblock.”

At best, he said, the U.S. could reach agreements on revising NAFTA this fall, although agreements with Europe and China would take months longer.

Also speaking at the chamber groups’ annual legislative conference were Sen. Deb Fischer, Rep. Don Bacon and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. Other topics included health care, defense spending, income tax changes, federal judges and farm legislation.