CEDAR RAPIDS — With the U.S. trade deficit at a nine-month high due to rising oil prices and the widening of America’s long-standing deficits with China and Mexico, Sen. Joni Ernst encouraged President Donald Trump to make sure any changes in the North American Free Trade Agreement do not hurt Iowa’s agricultural industry.
In a meeting with the president and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer Tuesday, Ernst emphasized the importance of maintaining NAFTA, as well as the duty-free access Iowa agricultural products enjoy under it.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, NAFTA supports 138,000 Iowa jobs and $5.6 billion in exports.
Ernst was part of a group of pro-NAFTA Republican senators who met with Trump at the White House Tuesday to advise against pulling out of ongoing negotiations to update the 1994 treaty with Canada and Mexico.
The Trump administration took a hard line in the most recent round of negotiations in Mexico, suggesting the talks could collapse or the president would pull the United States out of the agreement.
Ernst, seated next to the president during the meeting, told Trump of the importance trade plays in the Iowa economy.
“I reiterated to the administration the importance of ensuring Iowans remain competitive in the global market — provided our trading partners are operating on a level playing field,” she said after the meeting. “I will continue working to ensure that any changes made to NAFTA do not hurt our crop and livestock producers.”
According to Reuters, Trump told the senators NAFTA negotiations are “going to be very successful.”
He also said the United States had trade deficits with “everybody.”
“And that’s going to be changing — it’s already changing — but it’s going to be changing fast,” Trump said.
Mexico is the No. 1 importer of Iowa corn. About 47 percent of Iowa’s exports are destined for customers in the Mexico and Canada.
If NAFTA were discontinued, tariff increases would make Iowa products less competitive on the export market, the U.S. Chamber said.
The United States has trade relations with more that 75 of the world’s 195 countries, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.