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Commerce secretary tells North Dakota farmers to trust Trump

August 24, 2018

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross speaks in front of an oil tank to workers at TrueNorth Steel in Fargo, N.D., on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. Ross toured the company and spoke with employees about President Donald Trump's trade policy and tariffs on steel. Ross told the group it is difficult to predict when the tariffs will end or how it will end up. He says the administration has no specific timeline but want to get the best deals. (AP Photo/Dave Kolpack)

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told North Dakota farm leaders Thursday that they should trust President Donald Trump on trade and tariffs.

Ross appeared at a town hall in Fargo organized by Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, who is challenging Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in a state Trump won by about 36 percent. Heitkamp has called on the Trump administration to give up what she calls a “misguided trade war.”

Most of the agriculture representatives told Ross that they stand behind Trump’s plan and are optimistic about changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement and new deals with other countries. However, they are nervous about the effects of a long-term dispute.

Ross called Trump’s trade plan “a one-time fight that we have to win” and urged the group to “hang in there” against retaliatory tariffs. He said other countries have targeted farmers because they believe they would be the first to fold.

“I promise you, we know that uncertainty is a horrible position to be in, especially with the fall harvest looming right in front of us,” Ross said. “Many of you trusted the president in November of 2016 and voted for him. Trust him again, and you’ll be happy with the long-term result.”

Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in North Dakota with about 25 percent of the state’s workforce. The state generates 54 commodities and leads the nation in the production of about 10 crops.

One of the town hall participants, soybean farmer Matt Gast, said export sales figures released Thursday show that the U.S. has shipped 37 percent fewer soybeans compared to this time a year ago.

“We weren’t losing that much market share before the tariffs came into effect,” Gast said. “How long can this go on before we can gain some of this back or we can’t regain it back?”

Earlier in the day, Ross spoke to employees at the TrueNorth Steel plant in Fargo. Company president Dan Kadrmas said in an interview that he supports the president’s moves on trade, but wants a resolution.

“We are hoping that they get trade deals done with the other countries,” Kadrmas said. “Really, any trade deal is better than what we’ve had in the past.”

Heitkamp said in a statement North Dakota is one of the states hurt most by the tariffs and that farmers “are being treated like collateral damage by this administration.”

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