Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue says tariffs 'like weight loss'

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told Fox News on Wednesday that President Trump's tariffs on imports from China, the European Union and other nations are "a little bit like weight loss ... it's kind of painful to start with, but you're healthier in the end."

However, Perdue also acknowledged "legitimate anxiety over the tariffs and the pain they've caused."

The secretary spoke to Fox News as a set of 10-percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of imported Chinese goods is due to take effect Aug. 23. The proposed tariffs affect more than 6,000 product lines, including seafood, tobacco and components used in products such as car rear-view mirrors and burglar alarms. Beijing has responded by threatening new tariffs of 5 to 25 percent on roughly 5,000 U.S. products.

Last month, the Trump administration slapped 25-percent taxes on $34 billion in Chinese imports, most of them industrial goods that U.S. officials said received subsidies or other unfair support from Beijing. China quickly responded by imposing tariffs on $34 billion in U.S. products.

"China has not been playing by the rules for years and we’ve allowed for them year after year to get away with that," Perdue told Fox News. "And frankly, we’ve got barriers across the world, not just in China, but in the European Union. If we turned our farmers loose in America they would own the market internationally."

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Earlier this year, the Trump administration levied a 25-percent tariff on steel imported from the European Union, as well as a 10-percent tariff on aluminum. Brussels responded with tariffs on a number of U.S. goods. In July, Trump announced that the EU had agreed to increase soybean and natural gas imports from the U.S., while European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker promised that further steel and aluminum tariffs would be put on hold and existing tariffs reassessed.

President Trump has shown no sign of stopping the use of tariffs as an economic weapon. On Wednesday morning, he tweeted: "Our Country was built on Tariffs, and Tariffs are now leading us to great new Trade Deals - as opposed to the horrible and unfair Trade Deals that I inherited as your President."

Trump has also been attempting to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada. On Friday, Trump tweeted that a trade deal with Mexico was "coming along nicely," but threatened Canada with auto tariffs if Washington and Ottawa can't forge an agreement.

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"President Trump is saying 'enough is enough. If you want free trade let's have fair trade,'" Perdue said. "And that’s the ultimate goal ... to say - even to our friends like Mexico and Canada -- [to] bring them to the table and say, 'You know, it's kind of tilted here, let's level this playing field and allow our producers to compete competitively with yours and we’ll be fine.'"

The escalating trade war has jangled nerves among farmers in California, where the European Union, Canada and China are the three largest export markets for agricultural goods. Perdue, who was in California this week to tour areas affected by wildfires that have ravaged The Golden State, told Fox News that farmers "will know that President Trump’s strategy [is] to make it better in the end."

"Farmers get that. They’re patriots. They understand when people don’t play by the rules," Perdue said. "We've been the Boy Scouts internationally on the trade area and we’ve played by the rules and President Trump is trying to make sure that in this game of international trade others play by the rules too."

Fox News' Lee Ross and The Associated Press contributed to this report.