U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) led 46 members of the U.S. House of Representatives in calling for President Donald Trump to tread lightly on American agriculture while taking China to task over trade dealings with the United States.

“Your leadership and your administration have been vital in providing much-needed relief to Farm Country,” the lawmakers wrote in an April 13 letter to the president, referring collectively to majority agricultural states they represent across the nation.

“All our hard-won gains in Farm Country, however, are at serious risk of being wiped away because China is threatening retaliation against American farmers. We appreciate your commitment to stand by U.S. farmers and ranchers in the face of these outrageous threats,” according to their letter.

Among the 46 members who joined Rep. Noem in signing the letter were U.S. Reps. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), Glenn ‘G.T.’ Thompson (R-PA), Andy Barr (R-KY), Tom Cole (R-OK), Darin LaHood (R-IL), Jackie Walorski (R-IN), Brad Wenstrup (R-OH), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Tom Emmer (R-MN), Susan Brooks (R-IN), Frank Lucas (R-OK), Don Bacon (R-NE) and Billy Long (R-MO).

Their letter came on the heels of China’s recently announced tariffs increases, which could impact all of South Dakota’s top-five agricultural products: beef, corn, soybeans, wheat, and hogs, according to a statement from Rep. Noem’s staff. South Dakota is the 11th-largest agricultural exporting state in the nation with a total of $3.7 billion in agricultural goods exported in 2015, according to the statement.

“China’s irresponsible countermeasures threaten to undermine our achievements for South Dakota agriculture,” Rep. Noem said on April 16. “I stand firmly with President Trump in his effort to hold China accountable for its dishonest trade practices, but I urge the administration to do so in a way that avoids harmful Chinese countermeasures against American agriculture. This will help us put agriculture back on the road to prosperity.”

What has now escalated into a trade war between the U.S. and China began earlier this year. The United States Trade Representative (USTR) on Jan. 22 instituted safeguard tariffs on imported washing machines, solar cells and modules, according to the lawmakers’ letter, and China responded with what the lawmakers cited as “a baseless antidumping and countervailing duty investigation” on U.S. sorghum exports sold to China, valued at $1 billion.

Then in March, under the premise of protecting U.S. national security in response to China’s unfair trade practices related to the forced transfer of U.S. technology and intellectual property, President Trump approved tariffs on imported steel and aluminum under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. China retaliated with proposed tariffs of 15 percent on U.S. agricultural goods such as apples, nuts, ethanol, and wine, and a 25 percent tariff on U.S. pork exports.

“With U.S. pork exports worth $1.1 billion last year, this reprisal will substantially damage a very important industry,” the House members wrote.

This month, the USTR published a proposed list of products imported from China that could be subject to additional tariffs following its Section 301 trade act investigation. According to the USTR, the proposed list covers approximately 1,300 separate tariff lines and will undergo further review in a public notice and comment process, including a hearing, before USTR issues a final determination on the products subject to the additional duties.

China has countered with proposed 25-percent tariffs on agricultural goods including soybeans, corn, frozen orange juice, wheat and beef. “Soybean exports are worth $14 billion to an agriculture economy already enduring historically tough times,” according to the congressional members’ letter.

“We must continue to build on the success that’s come from historic tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks under the Trump administration,” said Rep. Noem, a member of the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, in a separate statement.

Noting that America’s farmers and ranchers are resilient, they nonetheless are already struggling with low commodity prices and drought, the lawmakers wrote.

“With net farm income down by half over the last four years, and no relief on the horizon, they are particularly vulnerable,” they pointed out.

The members told Trump they appreciated his support for their agricultural constituents as he deals with China’s retaliatory trade behavior. However, they encouraged the president “to work diligently” in negotiating with China “in a manner that will avoid retaliation.”

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