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As Trump announces Mexico trade deal, McCaskill continues to sound alarm on tariffs

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., speaks to a group of people representing Missouri manufacturing and agircultural interests on Aug. 27, 2018.
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., speaks to a group of people representing Missouri manufacturing and agricultural interests on Aug. 27, 2018.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill continued her criticism of President Donald Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs, which she says could do lasting economic damage to Missouri’s agriculture and manufacturing economies.

At a meeting Monday in St. Louis, the Democratic senator heard from companies and agricultural-commodity groups affected by the tariffs as Trump announced a trade deal with Mexico.

Trumprevealed on Mondaythat the United States and Mexico reached an accord that would effectively alter the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Washington Post reported the deal would make it harder for China to ship cheaper products through Mexico and then to the United States. It would also change Mexico’s environmental and labor regulations to help prevent companies from leaving the United States.

The move comes after Trump implemented steel and aluminum tariffs to countries like Mexico and Canada. After the St. Louis meeting, McCaskill once again contended that the tariffs were causing more problems than they were solving.

“We’re talking about billions of dollars of loss in Missouri, billions, because of this trade war,” McCaskill said. “So, we’ve got to get this fixed. And it’s not going to be enough to have an outline of an agreement just with Mexico to solve this problem. The markets that are going away are not going to come back right away. And, of course, the biggest market that this room was concerned about was China.”

After Trump implemented the steel and aluminum tariffs, China retaliated against American metal and agricultural commodity exports.

“One of three rows of beans in Missouri go to China. It is a huge export location for Missouri ag,” McCaskill said. “And so, that, obviously, is not resolved. And it doesn’t appear like it’s going to get resolved anytime soon.”

McCaskill isn’t alone in her criticism of the tariffs. Her GOP colleague, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, also blasted them earlier this year, contending they would affect everything from "beer cans to bass boats.” At least two people at the McCaskill event represented entities that made both of those products, including Hudson Moore of Anheuser-Busch.

“The tariff threatens to make this necessary cansheet supply more expensive,” said Moore, the senior director of metal and package procurement for Anheuser Busch. “And unfortunately, it will do nothing to convince domestic aluminum mills to produce more cansheet aluminum.

Asked about Trump’s Mexico announcement, Blunt said in a statement that “the details will matter, but this appears to be a huge step for the kind of trade we need with our two closest neighbors.”

And in a statement, Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst said, “Missouri farmers, and particularly Missouri corn and pork producers, received very good news today as the Trump Administration announced a successful conclusion to trade negotiations with Mexico.”

“Although we are happy that progress is being made, there is still much work to do to restore and open foreign markets to Missouri farmers,” said Hurst, who has raised alarm about how the tariffs affect commodities like soybeans. “We look forward to further successful agreements with Canada, China and other countries.”

Senatorial agreement?

While McCaskill has been outspoken against Trump’s tariffs, some of her Democratic colleagues who represent manufacturing-rich states have taken a different view.

For instance, Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin — who, like McCaskill, is running for re-election — has often emphasized her common ground with Trump on trade. And Illinois Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin’s reaction to the tariffs were less negative than McCaskill and Blunt’s statement, especially since they may bring more business to steel-manufacturing plants.

Asked about whether this difference of opinion within her party would make it difficult to fight back against Trump’s trade policies, McCaskill responded: “This should never be a party decision.”

“I don’t look to the members of my political party to make a decision on what’s right here,” McCaskill said. “Even in states where there are senators who have supported tariffs, as time goes on, it’s going to be apparent that there’s job loss and price increases because of this process of picking winners and losers. I think the majority of the Senate comes down on the side of fair trade, but also free trade.”

McCaskill’s GOP opponent in November, Attorney General Josh Hawley, has said he supports the goal of the tariffs — which he says is to force countriesinto signing better trade deals.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.