Agriculture got in a few plugs Tuesday night during a town-hall forum held by CNN with GOP presidential candidates. The forum was held with each candidate individually on stage taking questions from the audience.
Jim Walker, a vice president for Case IH NAFTA, and a board member for the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, asked Ohio Gov. John Kasich how the governor would handle trade as president, noting a large share of Case's equipment is exported.
"So I represent a manufacturer, farm equipment manufacturer, here in Wisconsin that directly employs many thousands of people," Walker said. "Indirectly, as you can imagine, with farm equipment that we sell, we indirectly support many more thousand farmers who buy our equipment. On top of that we export about a third of our product that we manufacture here in essence. So in essence, we're a global manufacturing company.
"To spark a trade war right now would not only be detrimental to business, but all of those people directly and indirectly that I said we support.
"My question to you is, as president, how would you engage in trade and diplomacy that won't hurt global manufacturing businesses?
Kasich answered: "No 1, I want you to know sir, in my state now we have over 63,000 new manufacturing jobs. It's really cool, and we're paying attention to all the sectors, which we need to do as a nation. Let's talk about trade right now, which is a really tough issue. One out of five Americans work for something related to trade, and second, that's 38 million Americans.
"We need to have open and free trade. I do these town halls all the time and I love them, by the way. Remember when we had all these Japanese cars coming into our country. You know what happened to U.S. cars? They got better. Innovation and competition really works, OK? At the same time, when we do these free-trade agreements and other countries cheat, and they do cheat. Some of them manipulate their currency and we need to call them on it. When we find it, we need to call them on it."
Kasich pointed to issues related to U.S. Steel and problems with South Korea selling cheap tubes in the U.S., effectively dumping the cheap steel into the U.S. market. It took a long time for that case to be made, Kasich said. "By the time you research and prove your case, which you would have to do, it could be a year or two and all your people are out of work. We need an early warning system, and let me tell you, when they cheat, I will act as president of the United States."
Kasich then gave a nod of support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. "We should not put up with countries when they cheat, but that does not keep us from embracing the notion of open and free trade. One other thing, we now have this trade agreement that's on the table, the TPP agreement. You know, when we trade, we're basically the most open country and everybody else has barriers. So what we try to do is get their barriers down so we can get our products into their country. But there's another element to this. You worry about the Chinese and their growing strength, particularly in Asia? Integrate ourselves with our friends in Asia who can become a bulwark against the strength of the Chinese."
CNN's Anderson Cooper, the town hall moderator, chimed in "But sir, open trade good?"
Kasich came back, "You have got to have an early warning system. You have got to shut it off, and by the way, agriculture depends on exports more than any other industry in this country."
Cooper noted to Kasich that Donald Trump is saying trade deals are bad and exporting jobs, which seems to be resonating with voters.
"Anderson, I can say all kinds of things to get people stirred up. But leaders don't do that. Leaders tell people things the way that they see it, even if it means for awhile that you are unpopular."
Also during the Wisconsin forum, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Donald Trump were asked separately by Wisconsin dairymen about how their immigration policies mesh with the need in agriculture for a stable workforce. Dairy producers struggle because the H-2A program is for seasonal workers only and dairymen need long-term, everyday labor. Cruz suggested this may translate into farmers having to pay more for Americans to do the job.
"In the agricultural world, I think the first option should be trying to find American workers. Now, that may mean that wages come up," Cruz said. "It may mean we need to use more tools. We've seen in Arizona that's happened. And beyond that, our legal immigration system, if there are needs in the labor force and Americans not able to do it, that's where legal immigration should come in, but it should be in a situation where you are vetting the people rather than just having people come in that we don't know who they are, we don't know their criminal history, we don't their background, it should be in a way that's targeted and protects American workers."
Trump, in his response, told a dairyman that he is in the same position as California grape growers, though noting that it's more seasonal in the grape industry than in dairy. He also indicated that farmers must find a way to rely on legal immigration for labor.
"People will be able to come in legally," Trump said. "Right now, we have illegal immigration. We have illegals all over the country. We have at least 11 million. Some people say it could be 31 million. It's somewhere in between. It's probably 12, 13, 14. We have no idea what we're doing. If you have an industry like California grapes, if you have an industry like perhaps what we're talking about in Wisconsin, we're going to let people come in, but they are going to come in legally. They are going to come in through a visa program and they are going to come in legally. And it's going to work out beautifully. We don't want to affect businesses. We want to grow businesses. The other part of your question, the thing we really have to talk about is trade because a lot of people are sending goods over that can spoil, like what you do, they send goods over to other countries, and the other countries refuse to accept them. And yet, we accept their goods without tax, without anything. We're going to straighten out our trade policy so you are going to get a lot more business."
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