Trump admin plans to help farmers hurt by global trade tensions

The Trump administration is offering up to $12 billion in aid to farmers hurt by retaliatory tariffs stemming from President Donald Trump’s widening trade feud with other countries.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Tuesday the emergency aid package will use existing funding to mitigate the estimated $11 billion impact of “illegal tariffs” other countries have imposed on US agriculture exports. The exports have been a prime target of China and other countries that have retaliated against the series of tariffs Trump has imposed in recent months.

“This is a short-term solution that will give President Trump and his administration time to work on long term trade deals to benefit agriculture and all sectors of the American economy,” Perdue told reporters on Tuesday.

The aid package will offer much-needed support to farmers caught up in the burgeoning trade war sparked by tariffs Trump imposed on several of US’s largest trading partners. But the proposal was quickly greeted Tuesday with continued criticism from Republicans on Capitol Hill who argued Trump should nix his tariff strategy rather than roll out a financial backstop.

The nearly $12 billion package will include direct payments to producers of key agricultural exports like soybeans, corn, dairy and pork; a program to purchase surplus from some agricultural producers; and efforts to build out markets for US agricultural products.

After Trump announced plans to impose $50 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports, Beijing retaliated with plans to impose tariffs on a range of agricultural products from the US including soybeans, grains, meats and dairy products.

Canada, Mexico and the European Union also struck back at Trump’s leveling of US steel and aluminum tariffs by hitting US exports of agriculture products and other heavily exported US goods.

Trump had previously directed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to explore options to mitigate financial losses US farmers are suffering as trade tensions between the US and other countries heat up.

The administration has so far downplayed the impact of Trump’s ratcheting up of trade tensions on US producers by emphasizing the long-term benefits of his efforts to even out US trade relationships. The rollout of billions of dollars in aid on Tuesday will be the first action Trump has taken to protect farmers from the whiplash they have had to face in recent months.

Perdue, for one, has called the impact on farmers a “temporary situation,” but had signaled that the administration would consider efforts to mitigate farmers’ financial losses.

While Republicans in Congress refrained from directly criticizing Trump, GOP leaders and rank-and-file members advocated against tariffs and trade feuds that result from them.

Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who recently defended Trump amid GOP criticism of his handling of Russia, also criticized Trump’s plan.

“Tariffs are taxes that punish American consumers and producers. If tariffs punish farmers, the answer is not welfare for farmers — the answer is remove the tariffs,” Paul tweeted.

House Speaker Paul Ryan Ryan offered Tuesday that he doesn’t think “tariffs are the right answer.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, likened Trump’s multibillion-dollar aid plan to “gold crutches” meant to support farmers being hurt by Trump’s trade actions.

“This trade war is cutting the legs out from under farmers and White House’s ‘plan’ is to spend $12 billion on gold crutches,” Sasse said in a statement. “America’s farmers don’t want to be paid to lose — they want to win by feeding the world. This administration’s tariffs and bailouts aren’t going to make America great again, they’re just going to make it 1929 again.”