Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday that the White House is considering providing additional assistance to farmers to compensate them for the income they have lost from the Trump administration’s trade war with China.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has repeatedly declared that the aid provided through USDA’s temporary Market Facilitation Program would not be repeated.
But Pence, speaking in northwest Minnesota after a meeting with farm leaders, said additional assistance was, in fact, under consideration.
“If we have to go the tariffs route — if we have to expand tariffs to reset the balance in our relationship — you can be very confident that President Trump and I and our entire administration are 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. And those discussions have already taken place,” Pence said.
Tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods were set to rise from 10 percent to 25 percent at midnight. U.S. and Chinese negotiators were starting a new round of negotiations Thursday afternoon.
USDA economists have estimated that farmers are receiving about $8.7 billion in MFP payments, split between 2019 and this year.
Pence provided no details about what was under consideration. But when pressed on the issue he repeated his assertion that additional aid was being contemplated.
“I think the President said earlier today that we’re hoping — and hoping that they’re coming to make a deal. … But make no mistake about it, we have already had preliminary discussions in the White House for additional support for farmers if this impasse with China continues.”
The suggestion of another round of trade aid could increase the pressure on China to reach a deal since the administration would be shielding U.S. farmers to some extent from additional retaliatory tariffs.
Pence said he understood the impact the trade war was having on farmers.
“I want to assure all of you, particularly those of you in soybeans, who export to China and understand that we’re working literally hour by hour to reach an agreement with China.
“The President and I remain hopeful that we’ll be able to reach an agreement, but we’re going to continue to stand firm. We’re going to continue to stand firm for putting American jobs, American farmers, and American workers first to reset that trading relationship with China that is so out of balance in so many different ways.”
During the visit to the farm near Glyndon, Pence talked individually with state farm leaders, their spouses and seven FFA officers, about 30 people in all, said Kevin Paap, the president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau. Pence also met privately with a smaller group, including Paap.
“We pushed pretty hard letting him know the emotional and financial strain out here,” Paap said. “Guys are not in a good mood.”
At a House Agriculture subcommittee hearing earlier Thursday, farmers told the committee that the trade war is pushing farm finances over the edge.
“Unless we get our markets back and prices rebound I feel many more farmers will be forced out of business,” said Mike Peterson, a Northfield, Minn. farmer.
Bart Davis, a cotton and peanut producer from southwest Georgia, told the subcommittee that a combination of flat prices, trade uncertainty and natural disasters have created a “perfect storm” for farmers.
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