U.S. Rep. James Comer provided an update on the "full-fledged trade war" with China for Paducah Rotarians on Wednesday and the need for manufacturing in rural America.
Comer, who represents the 1st Congressional District, served as this week's speaker for Rotary Club of Paducah at the Myre River Room in the Carson Center. He addressed a number of issues, ranging from industrial hemp to Endangered Species Act. His main topic centered on trade agreements and the ongoing trade dispute with China, describing it as a battle the country must participate in.
"I don't like participating in it," said Comer, R-Tompkinsville. "If you ask me, 'Do you support or oppose tariffs?' I will say, 'I oppose tariffs,' but at the rate we've been going in losing manufacturing in rural America, I think it's something that has to be done. And I feel confident that, at the end of the day, we're going to be victorious and this short-term pain will lead to long-term gain."
A former state commissioner of agriculture, Comer said he has soybeans that decrease in value every day, just as many farmers in the area do, referring to the dispute. But it's not just affecting commodities, he said.
"(Business magnate Warren Buffett) makes a very good point in very simple terms: 'You can't outsource everything.' You have to make some things in a country," he said. "If you continue to outsource everything, eventually your prosperous country will end up in poverty. You have to produce some things in the United States and the trend wasn't going in the right direction. We were outsourcing more and more and more into China."
China's labor and environmental laws are also different, which results in a uneven playing field, he said.
Comer emphasized the importance of having good-paying jobs in rural areas, such as Carlisle and Hickman counties. Manufacturing is the "obvious solution," adding that rural areas lost jobs after the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) because factory positions went elsewhere.
Comer said more suburban areas and places with private sector investment or those with universities were able to adapt to the "new world order," but rural America got left behind.
"I think if we're going to rebuild rural America, we have to do it with manufacturing," he said. "If we don't have some type of fair trade with China, then I don't think there's any future for manufacturing in rural America."
As for other countries, Comer shared information on the new deal with Mexico and Canada that he thinks is a "positive development" for trade. Comer believes the deal, United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), will be brought for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives in September.
With 435 members in the House, 218 are needed to pass a bill.
"If my math is right, there are close to 300 votes for USMCA. That's something that's very important -- not just for agriculture, but also manufacturing in this district. We don't make cars and trucks ... but we make a lot of parts for the automotive industry in this congressional district."