China’s aggressive response to Mr. Trump’s tariffs is aimed squarely at goods produced in the American heartland, a region that helped send him to the White House. A trade war with China could be particularly devastating to rural economies, especially for pig farmers and soybean and corn growers. Nearly two-thirds of United States soybean exports go to China.
The Trump administration says it has ordered the Agriculture Department to create a program to help farmers hurt by trade. Trade advisers say the department could use a program known as the Commodity Credit Corporation to purchase potentially billions of dollars of crops from American farmers harmed by tariffs.
But such a program would be time-consuming and costly and would come as the budget deficit continues to increase. Many American agriculturalists maintain that the easiest way to help them is to avoid a trade war with China in the first place. And many economists say the best way to combat a rising China and pressure it to open its market is through multilateral trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which create favorable trading terms for participants.
Among those who supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership was Mr. Trump’s nominee to head the state department, Mike Pompeo, who said during his confirmation hearing on Thursday that the United States needs “to be deeply engaged” in dealing with China.
On Thursday, Republican senators, congressmen and governors from Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, Kansas, Texas and other farming states met with the president to express their concerns.
Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, said it was “good news” that the president had directed his economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, and his trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, to look into rejoining the deal. “The best thing the United States can do to push back against Chinese cheating now is to lead the other 11 Pacific nations that believe in free trade and the rule of law,” Mr. Sasse said in a statement.
Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said in a tweet on Thursday that the farm state senators who attended the meeting had each expressed concerns about “nervousness among farmers” because of Chinese retaliation.