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Touting EU deal, Trump claims Europe now 'open' to US farmers

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Peosta (United States) (AFP)

President Donald Trump claimed Thursday he has "opened" European markets for US agricultural products, touting himself as a champion of skeptical American farmers.

Facing difficult congressional elections later this year, Trump traveled to the farm state of Iowa to promote an apparent trade truce with the European Union.

Trump told supporters he won access for US soybean producers -- "We just opened up Europe for you farmers," he said, portraying the agreement as unprecedented.

In November, Americans will go to the polls to decide who controls Congress and statehouses across the country. A Democratic rout would severely hobble Trump's presidency.

So Trump is currently on a swing through the key states of Iowa, Missouri and Illinois, trying to assuage concerns among one-time supporters.

He is particularly keen to shore up support among influential soybean farmers, who have been hit by Chinese sanctions -- which came in response to Trump's own tariffs on Chinese goods.

"It's not nice what they?re doing," Trump said, appearing to take aim at Beijing.

The Peterson Institute for International Economics estimates American farmers face 25 percent tariffs on more than $12 billion worth of soybean exports to China.

While some experts said Europe was going to import more US soybeans anyway, Trump's deal will ease some concerns about the impact of Beijing's sanctions.

Trump's bareknuckle trade actions have shocked allies, but have also roiled economies in areas of the country where his support had been solid.

According to a recent Economist/YouGov poll, only one in three voters in the agriculture-heavy Midwest approve of Trump's handling of the economy.

In a sign of Trump's concern about what that might mean at the ballot box come November, the White House recently floated a $12 billion package to aid farmers.

Meanwhile, Trump has -- at least temporarily -- backtracked on his own threats of sanctions against European cars, steel and aluminum, which had also stoked unease at home.

Earlier this week, the Minneapolis district of the Federal Reserve Bank -- which includes industrial and farm states -- reported that there was "growing concern" about "steep increases in aluminum and steel costs in reaction to tariff announcements."

Commerce Secretary Wilber Ross claimed Trump's climb-down and Europe's promise to hold trade talks and to import more soybeans as a victory.

"I think if we hadn't done the steel and aluminum tariffs, and if we hadn't had the threat of automotive tariffs, we never would have gotten to the point where we are now," he said.

Washington insiders have been quick to caution that Trump's move to temper his trade policies is likely a temporary tack in the face of elections, rather than the abandonment of his hardline "America First" agenda.

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