The U.S. Agriculture Department announced Tuesday a $12 billion package of emergency aid for farmers caught in the midst of President Donald Trump’s escalating trade war the latest sign that growing tensions between the United States and other countries will not end soon.
Trump ordered Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to prepare a range of options several months ago, amid complaints from farmers that their products faced retaliatory tariffs from China and other countries. The new package of government assistance funds announced Tuesday and will go into effect in September.
The aid package will target soybean farmers, dairy farmers, and pork producers, among others. White House officials hope it will temporarily quiet some of the unease from farm groups, but the new plan could revive debates about taxpayer-funded bailouts and the degree to which Trump’s trade strategy is leading to unforeseen costs.
“As you know, President Trump has promised since day one that he had the back of every American farmer and rancher,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Tuesday. “Today this announcement is the fulfillment of that promise.”
Farm groups have complained that moves by China and other countries in response to Trump’s protectionist trade stance could cost them billions of dollars, spooking Republicans who fear a political and economic blowback to Trump’s approach. China and Mexico have imposed tariffs on U.S. produced pork this year in retaliation for Trump’s tariffs.
The White House has searched for months for a way to provide emergency assistance to farmers without backing down on Trump’s trade agenda, and the new program will extend roughly $12 billion through three different mechanisms run by the Department of Agrigulture.
Officials said the assistance was calculated to match the estimated $11 billion of economic damage that retaliatory tariffs will inflict on U.S. farmers.
The funds will come through direct assistance, a food purchase and distribution program, and a trade promotion program.
The first two of those programs will target farmers who have been squarely hit by Chinese tariffs: soybean, corn, wheat, cotton and sorghum growers will be eligible for direct payments after this year’s harvest, as will dairy and pork producers. Separately, USDA will purchase surplus fruits, nuts, rice, beans, beef, pork and milk for distribution to food banks and other nutrition assistance programs.
(c) 2018, The Washington Post · Damian Paletta, Caitlin Dewey