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N.D. Republicans wary of Trump's tariffs while Minn.'s Smith celebrates

Sen. John Hoeven

GRAND FORKS—North Dakota's Republican leaders in Washington, often content with President Donald Trump's policy decisions, took a different tack last week upon his announcement of high metal tariffs, which critics say could harm the American economy.

Trump announced steel and aluminum tariffs on Thursday, March 8, at 25 and 10 percent, respectively, calling them an important step toward an American manufacturing renaissance and a protectionist matter of national security. But critics worry about the downstream effect on other sectors of the economy, including higher prices on goods ranging from consumer products to pipelines, which threatens more economic harm than help.

"The provisional exemption of Mexico and Canada is good," Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said in a prepared statement, referring to the administration's decision to exclude the two countries from the new levies. "(But) we are concerned that broad tariffs on steel and aluminum could cost American jobs and lead to retaliation by major trading partners that could harm other U.S. sectors, like agriculture and energy."

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., arguably among the president's most vocal regional supporters, said that he is "not over the moon" about the new tariffs. Though he praised the president's business acumen—calling him a "master negotiator"—he said he'd like to see the tariffs "more narrowly defined," though he said he expects that will occur as the administration continues to refine its strategy.

The announcement of the tariffs also comes after Trump's expressed desire to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement—though both Canadian and Mexican officials have said they won't allow their status under the tariffs to become a bargaining chip in NAFTA's renegotiation.

Trump's protectionist posture has also ignited fears of a trade war, concerns Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., echoed her in own statement on the new policy.

"If the administration wants to strengthen rural America, it should focus on protecting markets for the goods we produce and expanding opportunities for industries in our state," she said in a prepared statement. "Instead, they're shooting our economy in the foot, stoking fear in our farming communities, and casting a shadow on manufacturers who rely on exports to survive."

According to the Brookings Institution, steel accounted for 3.5 percent of North Dakota's imports in 2017, the ninth-highest number in the nation. But the view is different across the border, where Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., voiced interest in the new policy and its effects for Minnesota's steel industry.

"I met with Minnesota steelworkers my first week as United States senator, and I have long understood the damage that the unfair trade practices of some steel exporting countries do to our country's national security—and to jobs and opportunity on Minnesota's Iron Range," she said in a prepared statement. "I pressed this administration to take action to stop these unfair trade practices, which hurt Iron Range jobs, and I am glad they did so."

The offices of Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., did not respond to a request for comment.

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

(701) 780-1108