By Jon Dougherty
Aware that America’s farm belt is suffering financially as the so-called “trade war” with China progresses, Agriculture Department Secretary Sonny Perdue announced Friday that the administration would be providing $16 billion in relief.
American farmers have been particularly hard hit — not only by low commodities prices but also by tariffs imposed on China for American agricultural products, which has forced Beijing to purchase less, as well as retaliate with its own tariffs.
And so, with more retaliation on the way, POTUS is attempting to get 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, per CNN.
Meanwhile, farm income for the first quarter dropped to the lowest level since 2016, reported Bloomberg:
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.
And CNBC also reported that while farmers are taking it on the chin over the president’s trade war with China, they are still in his corner:
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.
This is good for POTUS who will need farmers with him as he heads into 2020 and continues to negotiate a better trade arrangement with China, which has been ripping off the U.S. with intellectual property theft and tight controls over its own domestic market (as in shutting out American goods) for decades.
By keeping farmers satisfied, the president keeps a key constituency in his corner while continuing to apply maximum pressure on the Chinese for at least some concessions, which will be better than nothing — and far better than any of the president’s recent predecessors managed to get from Beijing.
- Follow Jon Dougherty on Twitter at @JonDougherty10