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U.S. Rep. Ron Kind and a bipartisan group of House colleagues gave U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and his team “an earful” about retaliatory actions the Trump Administration is inviting with tariffs against even allied nations — but their pleas fell on deaf ears, the La Crosse Democrat said.

“It’s been very frustrating to try to work with the president and his trade team to try to get clarity,” Kind said during a phone interview after he and other members of the House Ways and Means Committee met with Lighthizer’s team Thursday afternoon.

“We did not get much clarity” during the meeting, he said.

Kind and other members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are incensed about President Donald Trump’s announcement Friday of steep tariffs on steel and agricultural products from Canada and Mexico, which retaliated with billions of dollars of tariffs against U.S. products.

With Mexico’s tit-for-tat including U.S. cheese, Kind said, “I mentioned to the trade ambassador if you want to destroy the American dairy industry, that will do it.”

Assuming that the tariff stymies dairy exports to Mexico, which is one of the industry’s major customers, dairy products stalled here would further drive down already depressed commodity prices, Kind said.

“It will be devastating for farmers,” he said, adding that hundreds of Wisconsin jobs will be imperiled with retaliations against other important Badger State commodities.

Those include cranberries, a crop for which Wisconsin ranks No. 1 in the country; apples, which are staples not only in Wisconsin but also in Minnesota; and Harley-Davidson motorcycles, one of the Badger State’s flagship products.

Lawmakers, farmer groups and media outlets have pointed out that tariff retaliations could hurt members of Trump’s base the most, prompting this comment from the president during a Cabinet meeting on Monday, “If, during the course of a negotiation, they want to hit the farmers, because they think that hits me, I wouldn’t say that’s nice.”

Trump indicated that he believes farmers would absorb the losses as their patriotic duty, saying, “Our farmers are great patriots. These are great patriots.

“They understand that they’re doing this for the country, and we’ll make it up to them,” Trump said. “In the end, they’re going to be much stronger than they are right now.”

Kind voiced doubts about that argument, saying that a lot of company owners and farmers are telling him that they are very concerned about backlashes not only from Mexico and Canada but also the European Union.

“I know the president is focused on trade deficits, but the problem is not the existence of trade agreements — but the absence of trade agreements,” he said.

Imposing tariffs on allies drives them away from the United States, Kind said, adding, “Targeting the closest ones weakens us and isolates us.”

Trade policies must be based on more than just money to promote friendly alliances and national security, Kind said.

“One point we all agree on is that the Chinese are cheating” in all areas of commerce, and not just against the United States, Kind said.

“Our president should be forming marketing agreements in a national coalition against China — not the way this administration is working,” Kind said.

Asked about reactions among his Republican colleagues, Kind said members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are raising the same issues of concern that the president is moving the country into a trade war with long-term negative consequences.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that that Canada is formulating retaliatory measures it will initiate on July 1, and EU members have indicated that they, too, are preparing to parry Trump’s tariff thrusts.

“Wisconsin families shouldn’t be used as pawns in a trade war,” Kind had said in a statement is office issued Wednesday. “It’s time that we stop treating our allies like our enemies — and set trade standards that support Wisconsin jobs.”

Mike Tighe can be reached at mtighe@lacrossetribune, or follow him on Twitter @necktye.

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