Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that the Trump administration would give an additional $16 billion in aid to America’s farmers hurt by the trade war with China.
Farmers have been particularly hurt by Chinese retaliatory tariffs, and with more retaliation on the way, Trump decided to get out ahead of the problem and try to shield farmers from the worst effects of the trade war.
“Well, President Trump feels what they’re trying to do is really outlast him and that’s not gonna work. Their economy has hurt a lot more than our agricultural economy and that’s why President Trump has authorized a $16 billion facilitation program,” Perdue said Thursday morning on Fox Business.Perdue said that the farmer aid will be paid for by an equivalent amount the US expects to pull in through tariffs. But Perdue also claimed that “China’s gonna pay for these” — a false assertion made repeatedly by Trump.
The tariffs will instead be paid for by companies importing goods into the US and are often passed on to US consumers in the form of price hikes, a reality acknowledged by Trump’s own top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow.
One-time subsidy payments from the Trump administration to compensate producers for some of their trade-war losses helped prop up farm income in the previous quarter, but earnings plunged by an annualized $11.8 billion in the January to March period, according to seasonally adjusted data.
Trump won the presidency by winning rural America, in part by pledging to use his business savvy and tough negotiating skills to take on China and put an end to trade practices that have hurt farmers for years. While the prolonged fight has been devastating to an already-struggling agriculture industry, there’s little indication Trump is paying a political price.
But there’s a big potential upside if he can get a better deal — and little downside if he continues to get credit for trying for the farmers caught in the middle. It’s a calculation Trump recognizes heading into a reelection bid where he needs to hold on to farm states like Iowa and Wisconsin and is looking to flip others, like Minnesota.
A March CNN/Des Moines Register poll of registered Republicans in Iowa found 81% approved of how Trump is handling his job, and 82% had a favorable view of the president, an increase of 5 points since December. About two-thirds said they’d definitely vote to re-elect him. The poll had a margin of error of 4.9 percentage points.
This is very good news for Trump, who needs the farmers to stay with him in order to apply maximum pressure on China. The president is not likely to get a game-changing deal with China, but almost everyone agrees that any deal that helps Americans sell more goods to China would be a victory.
The question will be at what cost? And who will pay it? If farmers continue to be propped up by Washington, there’s a good chance Trump will get at least some of what he’s looking for in a deal with China.