Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue confirmed Friday that USDA, at the request of the White House, is working to put together a second aid package for farmers to make up for losses from Chinese tariffs.
“Just spoke with (President Donald Trump) — while China may backtrack, (Trump) is steadfast in his support for U.S. farmers and directed (USDA) to work on a plan quickly,” Perdue tweeted this morning. “(Trump) loves his farmers and will not let them down!”
Perdue’s comments come a day after Vice President Mike Pence assured farmers in Minnesota that the administration is “going to look for ways to provide additional support to American farmers that would be impacted by the negotiations or uncertainty in our relationship with China.”
House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., told Agri-Pulse that the administration was "trying to buy peace" with farmers, who he said are becoming increasingly frustrated with the president's trade policy. The administration has "got no good answers. I don’t think it’s a smart way to do it. If there’s money we should put it in the farm bill," he said.
Peterson also ridiculed the suggestion in Trump's tweets Friday morning that the administration would make massive purchases of U.S. commodities. "What are you going to do with them? Give everybody a bag of soybeans?"
The latest round of U.S.-China negotiations ended Friday. "They were constructive discussions between both parties, that's all we're going to say," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC afterward.
USDA rolled out the first trade aid package worth roughly $12 billion in cash payments, commodity purchases and new marketing funds in August last year. From then until last week, Perdue has insisted there were no plans for a follow-up assistance package.
But negotiations with China appeared to fall apart this week when Trump and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer announced they were more than doubling the tariff rate on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, escalating the trade war even as a Chinese delegation arrived for a new round of talks.
That tariff rate hike — from 10 percent to 25 percent — went into effect this morning as U.S. and Chinese negotiators meet for the second day of talks in Washington.
Trump also confirmed Friday that USTR has begun the process to hit an additional $325 billion worth of Chinese goods with a 25 percent tariff. That would go on top of $250 billion worth of imports already being taxed.
China is threatening to retaliate, but the country is already hitting just about every ag commodity it buys from the U.S. with steep import taxes. Soybeans, sorghum, oranges, dairy, pork and almonds are just a few of U.S. ag exports that are being impacted.
“Tariffs will make our Country MUCH STRONGER, not weaker,” Trump said in a series of tweets this morning that suggested the U.S. government could buy up as much as $15 billion in farm commodities. “Just sit back and watch! In the meantime, China should not renegotiate deals with the U.S. at the last minute.”
China reneged on major promises that negotiators agreed to past trade talks, Lighthizer told reporters earlier this week after he returned from one of those talks in Beijing.
China still wants a deal to end the trade war, according to White House officials, but Trump said he is in no hurry.
“Talks with China continue in a very congenial manner — there is absolutely no need to rush — as Tariffs are NOW being paid to the United States by China of 25% on 250 Billion Dollars worth of goods & products.” Trump tweeted today. “Your all time favorite President got tired of waiting for China to help out and start buying from our FARMERS, the greatest anywhere in the World!”
But that’s the exact opposite of what farm groups want to hear after months of tariffs and retaliatory tariffs. In a joint release today, the presidents of the American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers Association and the National Association of Wheat Growers all say they are losing patience and demand a resolution to the China trade war.
“We have heard and believed the President when he says he supports farmers, but we’d like the President to hear us and believe what we are saying about the real-life consequences to our farms and families as this trade war drags on,” said ASA President Davie Stephens. “Adding to current problems, it took us more than 40 years to develop the China soy market. For most of us in farming, that is two thirds of our lives. If we don’t get this trade deal sorted out and the tariffs rescinded soon, those of us who worked to build this market likely won’t see it recover in our lifetime.”
But Trump suggested otherwise in yet another tweet and went on to say that developing nations could benefit from the donation of U.S. commodities purchased by the government and donated for "humanitarian assistance."
“Tariffs will bring in FAR MORE wealth to our Country than even a phenomenal deal of the traditional kind,” Trump said. “Also, much easier & quicker to do. Our Farmers will do better, faster, and starving nations can now be helped.”
Farmers would far prefer to sell their goods on the international marketplace than more tariffs, said NCGA President Lynn Chrisp.
“Corn farmers are watching commodity prices decline amid ongoing tariff threats, even while many can’t get to spring planting because of wet weather,” Chrisp said today. “Farmers have been patient and willing to let negotiations play out, but with each passing day, patience is wearing thin. Agriculture needs certainty, not more tariffs.”
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