DES MOINES, Iowa -- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on a trade mission Monday to persuade Iowa farmers struggling to survive low commodity prices and tariffs that have hurt sales to stand firm with President Donald Trump and his efforts to negotiate better trade deals.
Pompeo, flanked by U.S. Ambassador to China and former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, spoke to a group of young suburban Des Moines Future Farmers of America members at a high school in Johnston, Iowa and a gathering of 200 Iowa Farm Bureau members. He toured a DowDuPont agricultural research facility and met with the state's Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds who has been supportive of Trump.
During questions at the high school he defended Trump's trade efforts which have yet to resolve an ongoing tariff dispute with China that has cost farmers billions of dollars in lost trade, saying the its protectionist policies of charging tariffs on U.S. goods and stealing U.S. technology had to be dealt with.
"The president concluded, and I think rightly so, that it's time. We need to be serious about that. That we ought to do this in a professional way, engage in deep communication and negotiation with the Chinese about this so we can get to a place where Americans can sell their goods on a fair, simple reciprocal idea that says if you have no tariffs and we'll have none," he said.
He acknowledged such fights are difficult but suggested there could be a resolution, telling the farmers that "help is on the way for American producers and Chinese consumers."
China is the leading buyer of U.S. soybeans and as recently as 2017 had been the leading buyer of coarse grains, second leading buyer of cotton, third leading buyer of dairy and top five buyer of other agricultural products, he said.
He also acknowledged to the group of Iowa students that negotiations with North Korea fell short and there's a lot more work to do to convince the nuclear power to change course.
"We made some progress. We didn't get to where we hoped we'd be and I think there's a lesson in that and I think there's a lot more work to do there," Pompeo told the FFA students.
He said the threat to the United States and the next generation of Americans from the North Korean nuclear weapons is a serious threat.
"My mission as America's top diplomat is to try and convince them that they don't need their nuclear weapons; that they ought to change strategic course. They ought to begin to give up those weapons systems in a way that will allow the North Korean people to flourish and reduce the risks here in America."
Branstad said he believes progress had been made recently with China and a deal could be near but he acknowledged farmers want a resolution.
"Iowa farmers take the long view of things. I think Iowa farmers want to see something long-lasting and permanent and not something that's just going to be short term," he said.