Russia Bogeyman Tariffs Jeopardize National Security

Kent Kaiser, The U.S. International Trade Commission voted last month to pursue an investigation concerning phosphate fertilizers being imported from Morocco and Russia.

Regrettably, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has come out in support of the investigation, which reeks of crony capitalism.

It comes at the request of the giant Tampa-based Mosaic Company, which owns a majority of the U.S. phosphate production for fertilizers and a majority of the mines in Florida, where 75 percent of the country’s phosphate can be found, according to the Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute.

Imposing tariffs on phosphate imports would increase the prevailing cost of phosphates in the United States and allow the Mosaic Company — with its $19 billion-plus assets — to approach monopoly status and charge even more for its phosphate fertilizers than it already does. Shame on Rubio for enabling such price-gouging.

The U.S. Department of Commerce will now pursue an investigation into imports of phosphate from Morocco and Russia and could ultimately decide to slap tariffs ranging from 30 to 70 percent on those countries’ phosphate exports. Those tariffs would amount to a tax on American farmers of roughly $480 to $640 million, according to the former chief economist of the American Farm Bureau Federation. Ultimately, this would result in higher costs for consumers at grocery stores.

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Rubio has framed his support of these punitive tariffs as a matter of national security, but trade policy should be more than invoking the Russia bogeyman to scare people into bad policy decisions. A healthy trading American-Russian relationship that involves importing phosphates to hold down the cost of fertilizers and, by extension, U.S. grocery store prices is a good thing.

Also, punishing Morocco with tariffs is downright offensive. Morocco is literally among the country’s longest-standing allies.

It was the first nation to conduct trade with the new United States, when it opened its ports to our ships by decree of Sultan Mohammed III in 1777. Moreover, Morocco formally recognized the United States by signing a treaty of peace and friendship in 1786, a document that remains the longest unbroken relationship in U.S. history. Plus, Morocco holds 85 percent of the world’s phosphate reserves, which our farmers need. Why would Rubio want to jeopardize this strategic friendship?

As Americans have seen during the coronavirus pandemic, food security is a matter of national security — just look at how the pandemic and the resultant closure of meatpacking plants affected supply chains and created panic.

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Imposing tariffs on Moroccan and Russian phosphates jeopardizes the supply chain and the availability of affordable groceries, thereby putting the most vulnerable Americans at risk.

Eight other senators — John Boozman of Arkansas, John Cornyn of Texas, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Jerry Moran of Arkansas, Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Roger Wicker of Mississippi, and Todd Young of Indiana — have urged Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and International Trade Commission Chairman Jason Kearns to deny Mosaic’s request. They noted that “U.S. farmers depend on affordable phosphate fertilizers to produce a variety of crops, including corn, soybeans, cotton, wheat, sorghum, sugar beets, and fruits and vegetables.”

Not only do these Republican senators understand the importance of food security to U.S. national security, but they know tariffs on phosphates would amount to an unbearable blow to farmers.

The tariffs, which jeopardize strategic trading relationships and put the food security of many Americans at risk, will only help a corporate behemoth increase its market majority. The U.S. International Trade Commission must reject the unreasonable Mosaic-Rubio request.

Kent Kaiser, Ph.D. is executive director of the Trade Alliance to Promote Prosperity. More information is available at promote-trade.org.