President Donald Trump signaled today he’s willing to significantly up the ante in the escalating trade fight with China by proposing an additional $100 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods. USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue released a statement shortly afterwards, doubling down on his recent promises to protect farmers and ranchers from becoming collateral damage in the spat.
China, in a threat of retaliation for the $50 billion in tariffs announced Tuesday by the White House, said Wednesday it was considering $50 billion of tariffs on U.S. exports. Whereas the U.S. targeted mostly Chinese machinery like tractors and aerospace technology, the Chinese targeted sensitive U.S. agricultural exports like soybeans, corn and cotton.
But now Trump is threatening to retaliate against the Chinese retaliation, asking U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to “to consider whether $100 billion of additional tariffs would be appropriate … “
U.S. farm groups widely opposed the first U.S. package of tariffs, rightly fearing that China would hit back on U.S. ag exports. Another $100 billion in tariffs on China to punish it for years of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfer raises the stakes even higher, but Perdue said that he and Trump understand the damage that could be done to U.S. farmers and ranchers.
“President Trump knows that America’s farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers are the ones who feed, fuel, and clothe this nation and the rest of the world,” Perdue said. “The Administration stands ready to defend agricultural producers who may be harmed. As we take a stronger approach to the way we handle trade as a nation, we will use all of our authorities to ensure that we protect and preserve our agricultural interests.”
The renewed pledge of protection comes after Perdue promised on Tuesday that USDA is working on emergency aid programs to help farmers and ranchers that suffer from Chinese tariffs.
The Tuesday comments from Perdue were in reaction to a completely different retaliation from China – a reaction to U.S. tariffs on global steel and aluminum imports. China had reacted to those U.S. tariffs by announcing a 25 percent tariff on U.S. pork and a 15 percent tariff on U.S. oranges, lemons, nuts and other commodities.
USDA officials on Wednesday confirmed they were working on the emergency aid programs, but stressed the complexity of designing them for the wide variety of products targeted by the Chinese.
It’s unlikely that Lighthizer will need to take much time to consider Trump’s proposal.
“Unfortunately, China has chosen to respond thus far with threats to impose unjustified tariffs on billions of dollars in U.S. exports, including our agricultural products,” Lighthizer said in a statement of his own today. “Such measures would undoubtedly cause further harm to American workers, farmers, and businesses. Under these circumstances, the president is right to ask for additional appropriate action to obtain the elimination of the unfair acts, policies, and practices identified in USTR’s report.”