Even as the Trump Administration's trade war with China raged unabated, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin assured Sen. Steve Daines during a Senate hearing Tuesday that removing Chinese tariffs on polysilicon remains "a high priority."
The polysilicon tariffs are blamed for the closure of REC Silicon's factory in Moses Lake, Washington, which was announced Tuesday. REC Silicon's Butte factory remains open.
Of the wider trade war, Daines said, "As I travel around the state of Montana I continue to hear the concerns of our farmers and ranchers. Our No. 1 economic driver in Montana is agriculture. We're very dependent on exports. 70 to 80 percent of our wheat crop goes to Asia.
"I'm also hearing from concerns from folks being impacted by tariffs and uncertainty outside Montana ag, including businesses that make up Montana's ... $7 billion outdoor economy. One of those is Simms, located right in my hometown of Bozeman."
Daines also urged Mnuchin to involve allies to apply multilateral pressure on China.
"If we can get the proper deal, which would be a good deal for the United States it would be a big opportunity for ... our American workers and American companies," Mnuchin responded, then told Daines, "I like Bozeman a lot, it's a lovely place."
Shifting gears to polysilicon, Daines said, "U.S. polysilicon has long been targeted by retaliatory tariffs by China ... these tariffs are threatening hundreds of high-wage manufacturing jobs at REC Silicon in Butte Montana. It's critical that REC Silicon" and other silicon manufacturers "are able to compete on a truly level playing field.
"Secretary Mnuchin, is removing these tariffs on polysilicon a high priority for you, and will you work to make sure they stay on the agenda as negotiations with China continue?" Daines asked.
"Yes, I can assure you they are," Mnuchin said.
As a group, Republican senators have become increasingly distressed by Trump's trade actions and their potential political consequences. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, which has felt the result of tariffs sorely, openly criticized Trump Tuesday, accusing him of not being responsive to concerns about the escalation of the trade war. The Washington Post on Tuesday quoted Grassley as saying of Trump," "I'm not sure if you talk to him face to face, he hears everything you say."
While Daines did not take the same tone in his largely collegial exchange with Mnuchin, he did emphasize that "we need results and we need them soon."
But on Wednesday, as stock prices rallied largely on Mnuchin's optimistic statements, neither President Trump nor the Chinese government seemed conciliatory.
The Associated Press reported that Chinese state-run media sounded a defiant note, with one influential news anchor saying, "If you want a trade war, we'll fight you until the end."
Trump, meanwhile, signed an executive order declaring a national emergency, barring U.S. companies from using telecommunications companies thought to be a national security risk. The move was thought to be aimed at banning doing business with China's Huawei Technologies.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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