North Korea, trade talks dominate Daines’ trip to Asia

National flags of U.S. and China wave in front of an international hotel in Beijing February 4, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Lee

By Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

Trade with China and Japan and dealing with the North Korean nuclear threat dominated Sen. Steve Daines’ trip to Asia, where he met with the nations’ top diplomats in a weeklong visit.

In a conference call with Montana media on Monday, Daines said he was optimistic that new trade opportunities with China and Japan will emerge from the visit, including expanded imports of Montana beef and wheat.

“The easiest place for us to focus for the moment is agriculture,” Daines said. “Ninety-five percent of the world’s population is outside the U.S. So when you look at these emerging Asian markets, it presents a tremendous growth opportunity for Montana agriculture.”

Daines said agriculture served as a good starting point for trade negotiations, adding that Montana producers would be the most vulnerable if a trade war were to erupt between the U.S. and its Asian counterparts.

Daines noted that the Chinese ban on U.S. beef dates back to 2003 and stems from a single mad cow incident. Once Sonny Purdue is seated as the new secretary of agriculture, Daines said, beef exports to China will likely resume.

“There’s some final technical issues in terms of traceability we’re sorting out with the Chinese,” Daines said. “I’m confident we’ll get this resolved once the Secretary of Agriculture is approved. They announced lifting the ban last September.”

Daines’ meeting with Chinese and Japanese officials followed on the heels of President Donald Trump’s meeting in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, with President Xi Jinping. Vice President Mike Pence also arrived in South Korea just as Daines’ delegation was departing.

Tensions surrounding North Korea came up throughout the visit, Daines said.

“We talked about the important role China and Japan play in ending the nuclear program there,” Daines said. “Those missiles launched a couple weeks ago were pointed at Japan. The Japanese are very concerned about what’s happening in North Korea, as is China.”

Daines said China will be key in terms of placing and upholding stiff sanctions and using trade as a lever to stop North Korea’s nuclear program. China serves as North Korea’s largest single trading partner.

Peaceful resolution remains the focus, Daines said.

“Pence followed us to Asia this week, and a lot of our meetings were in the context of knowing he would be coming after us,” Daines said. “The era of strategic patience is over. The focus right now is sending a strong message to North Korea, saying it won’t be tolerated, and asking China to join us in trade sanctions and banking sanctions.”

Daines said former President Bill Clinton signed the nuclear accord with North Korea more than 22 years ago. It hasn’t worked and a new tactic is needed.

“Look where we are 22 years later,” Daines said. “The other message we heard from China and Japan is that there’s a little respect now for what Trump has been doing with his decisiveness. Ronald Reagan’s peace through strength doctrine is starting to be heard over there in Asia.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com