Former President Donald Trump made a case to House Republicans for higher tariffs on China to protect U.S. industries, lawmakers said after meeting with him on Capitol Hill Thursday.

Trump said tariffs are “a strong tool for the executive branch. And you can use it in your negotiations with China and get concessions,” said Rep. Don Bacon, a Nebraska Republican on the House Agriculture Committee.

Bacon also said Trump brought up the fact that the United States depended on tariffs to fund government services until the 20th century. “He talked about how we did our taxes up until World War I was all tariffs,” Bacon said. 

Bacon said Trump didn’t suggest raising tariffs to offset income tax cuts, but Rep. Tom Massie, R-Ky., had a different take. He posted on X that Trump "briefly floated the concept of eliminating the income tax and replacing it with tariffs." 

While Trump didn’t go into detail about his trade policy, he made more than a passing reference to tariffs, said Rep. Austin Scott, a Georgia Republican on House Ag.

“Obviously, he did mention tariffs, and I do think that they would be used more from the standpoint of areas where we see that Americans and American workers are being taken advantage of, using them in such a manner that we would stop people from taking advantage of us,” Scott said.

GOP House members Trump as very upbeat about the campaign during the meeting at the Capitol Hill Club, and said he also talked about issues such as abortion and border security 

Trump brought up the issue of tariffs again during a subsequent meeting on the other side of Capitol Hill with Republican senators. But Senate Ag Committee member Mike Braun, R-Ind., told Agri-Pulse Trump discussed tariffs only "in terms of what worked before" during his administration in regard to China.

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"He talked about strength in terms of how he'd have a relationship that would deter China and Russia that we don't have now," Braun said.

During his campaign, Trump has proposed imposing across-the-board tariffs on all imports, while also raising duties on Chinese goods even higher than they are now, doubling down on the trade war he started in 2018. Trump also has pledged to end China’s normalized trade relations with the United States.

The U.S. agriculture already is facing a growing trade deficit in part because of slumping sales to China. USDA last month increased its forecast for agricultural imports for fiscal 2024, while leaving projected ag exports unchanged at $170.5 billion and boosting the estimated U.S. ag trade deficit to $32 billion.

The forecast dropped China to third place behind Mexico and Canada among the top U.S. export markets. 

President Joe Biden has left intact Trump’s higher tariffs on China. U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in February that the Biden administration sees “strategic value in those tariffs in this exercise of building out the middle class and reinvigorating American manufacturing, and the American economy.”

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