U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson met with Wisconsin business executives Monday to discuss the impact of tariffs.
President Donald Trump imposed tariffs earlier this year because he said the United States was not getting a fair share with trading partners. In return, some countries have retaliated.
In a roundtable discussion in Milwaukee, dozens of representatives of manufacturing and agricultural operations told Johnson the tariffs have been a blow to their operations.
Johnson is a Republican, like President Trump. Johnson said he agrees with Trump that the U.S. needs to level the playing field in trade, but Johnson said there’s a better way to do it than through the tariffs Trump put into place.
The senator outlined his point of view to kick off the roundtable discussion Monday.
“The purpose of this roundtable is to describe the plight, the situation each one of your businesses with the current, I’ll call it what it is, trade war. We’re in the beginning parts of a trade war. Like any war, I’m concerned it could spin out of control,” Johnson said.
Executives from agriculture, manufacturing and health care were seated around Johnson, sharing microphones as they took turns voicing concerns.
One of those who spoke was Brad Kremer, a farmer who was there representing Hillcrest Family Farms.
Kremer said he’s not sure how long the agricultural industry can withstand the retaliatory tariffs.
“Just in the last 30 days in the soybean market, we’ve lost over almost 2.5 dollars in bushel. Translation in my farm I lost $60,000 of my own money in 30 days. The Wisconsin growers, that’s 250 million dollars we just lost in 30 days. For the national growers that’s over 7 billion dollars.”
Another participant addressed the challenges for U.S. manufacturers that have to produce goods with higher-priced, imported aluminum and steel.
Jeffrey Clark is the CEO of Waukesha Metal Products. He said the company has had a 45 percent increase on aluminum raw materials.
“One of the ramifications that we’re experiencing is that we’re having customers pressuring us to move the products, our production products to Mexico. That’s been some of the things, our biggest challenge right now is to move it out of the U.S. and into Mexico for trying to work around tariffs and get access to other markets that we don’t have as good a market access,” Clark added.
Other speakers at the roundtable focused on how the cheese industry is suffering from the Trump tariffs.
Jeff Schwager, president of Sartori Cheese, noted that Mexico is Wisconsin’s biggest cheese importer, but now, Mexico has put a 25 percent tariff on U.S. cheese.
Schwager told a concerned Johnson that, as a result, European cheese manufacturers have a leg up in Mexico – because they’re not hit with the retaliatory tariff.
“We’ve agreed at this point with our partners in Mexico to absorb those tariffs and not have them hit the consumer," Schwager said.
Johnson interjected, "That’s not a very good long-term solution, right?"
Schwager responded, "It’s not a long-term solution, but it’s years to get back into recipes or on shelves.”
Johnson asked the businessmen and women to raise their hands if they saw any advantages to the tariffs – no one did.
Johnson said he plans to package the information from the event and present it to President Trump and his administration.
The senator said he hopes they’ll take the time to read it and recognize the reality of what’s happening.