US to give farmers $12bn trade war bailout

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Media caption,

The trade war between the US and China is escalating

The Trump administration has unveiled a $12bn (£9.1bn) plan aimed at helping US farmers hurt by the intensifying trade war.

The aid is intended to protect the industry as countries raise taxes on US products such as soybeans in response to the president's new tariffs.

The US plans to provide subsidies to farmers and buy unsold crops, among other measures.

Tariffs have irked farmers, a crucial voting bloc for President Donald Trump.

Mr Trump has said his tariffs - which he described on Tuesday in a tweet as "the greatest" - are intended to pressure countries to change their policies toward US exports.

In a speech on Tuesday, he said farmers would be the "biggest beneficiary" of the disputes after countries strike new trade deals.

But the agriculture industry, which draws about 20% of its income from exports, said the president's approach is hurting demand for its goods and causing long term damage to relationships with buyers.

Prices for soybeans have already fallen by more than 15% since April, when China - a major buyer of the crop - announced its plans to retaliate.

"Farmers need stable markets to plan for the future," said Brian Kuehl, executive director of the industry group Farmers for Free Trade, which represents pork producers, corn growers and others.

"As such, we urge the administration to take immediate action to stop the trade war and get back to opening new markets."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Most of the $12bn in aid will go direct to farmers

Tariffs at a glance

March: US announces tariffs on foreign steel and aluminium. The US imported roughly $46bn of the two metals in 2017.

April: China retaliates for metals tariffs by raising duties on $3bn-worth of US products.

June: Exemptions to US metals tariffs for EU, Canada and Mexico expire. The three countries retaliate with tariffs on a total of almost $20bn in US products.

July: US and China impose tit-for-tat tariffs of $34bn on the other country's products. A second round of $16bn-worth of tariffs on goods is delayed.

Coming up: The US is also considering additional tariffs of more than $200bn on Chinese products, as well as duties on foreign cars and car parts, which represent more than $300bn in annual trade. Canada, Mexico and the EU have said they are prepared to respond.

The US Agriculture Department said it expects losses of about $11bn as a result of the trade disputes.

Much of the $12bn in emergency relief, which does not need congressional approval, will go towards direct payments to farmers of commodities such as soybeans, sorghum, and wheat, officials said.

The US also plans to buy crops such as fruits and nuts, distributing them to food banks and other government nutrition programmes.

Some of the money will also go to boosting export efforts.

The first assistance is expected to be distributed by the beginning of September.

The programme, which will be deployed using powers created during the Great Depression, is not intended to extend beyond this year, officials said.

"This is a short-term solution that will give President Trump and his administration time to work on long-term trade deals that benefit agriculture and all sectors of the economy," US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said.

Some Republicans and even Democrats backed the aid package.

But industry groups that represent agriculture, as well as politicians from agricultural states, criticised the relief as a short-term solution to a self-inflicted problem.

"Time and time again I've heard from farmers that they want trade, not aid," said Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin.

"Instead of throwing money at a problem we've helped create, the better option is to take action to make it easier for our farmers - and manufacturers - to sell their goods at fair prices to consumers around the world."

Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, tweeted on Tuesday: "If tariffs punish farmers, the answer is not welfare for farmers. The answer is remove the tariffs."

Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, said in a statement: "This trade war is cutting the legs out from under farmers and White House's 'plan' is to spend $12 billion on gold crutches."