WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Thursday unveiled details of a $16 billion aid package to help farmers hurt by President Trump’s trade war with China, as soybean growers from around the country converged on Washington to tell lawmakers that rural America is ready for a cease-fire.
Farmers have been among the biggest casualties of the trade fight, with Beijing slowing — and in some cases ending — purchases of American agricultural goods as retaliation for Mr. Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports. They have also suffered from retaliatory tariffs that the European Union, Canada and Mexico placed on American farm goods after Mr. Trump slapped levies on foreign metals.
The Agriculture Department said that the payments to farmers, which were first announced in May, would be made in three tranches in the next six months. The subsidies come as American negotiators head to China next week to resume trade talks with Beijing, which collapsed in May after Mr. Trump accused China of reneging on a trade deal.
Mr. Trump and President Xi Jinping of China have since agreed to restart negotiations, with Mr. Trump emerging from a meeting in Osaka promising that Beijing would “immediately” begin purchasing American farm goods. But China has denied making any explicit commitment to buy American farm products during those discussions and no large-scale purchases have taken place.
The bailout is the second round of financial support for farmers, who received $12 billion in subsidies last year to help cushion the fallout from trade disputes. While Canada and Mexico lifted their retaliatory tariffs this year after Mr. Trump stopped taxing their metals, tariffs on the European Union continue and the bloc still has levies on American products like whiskey, orange juice and peanut butter. China has been among the biggest buyers of American agricultural products, snapping up goods like pork, cranberries, cotton, sorghum and soybeans.
The program, which uses money from a depression-era fund, allows farmers earning less than $900,000 a year to receive payments if they produce one of the agricultural products that has faced retaliation from China.
The first aid package drew criticism that it favored some products over others and attracted backlash after a study that found city residents who own shares in farms and relatives of farmers have been capitalizing on the bailout. Farmers also complained that the money was slow to be paid out and did little to cover their full losses.
This time around, payments will be determined based on a farm’s size and location, with rates of $15 to $150 an acre. The size will depend on the effect of retaliatory tariffs in a particular county. No applicant can receive more than $500,000 worth of aid.
Farmers are a key constituency for Mr. Trump, and he has been taking aggressive measures to blunt the financial pain they have experienced as a result of retaliation from tariffs that he has imposed on China, Europe, Mexico and Canada in the last two years. Total farm income across the country fell 16 percent in 2018, according to the Agriculture Department, as retaliatory tariffs took a significant toll on exports. Pork and soybeans were among the hardest hit products, as China started importing them from other markets.
Mr. Trump has continued to insist that farmers will be the biggest beneficiary of his trade war and wrote on Twitter this week that they were “starting to do great again.”
“China and other nations have not played by the rules for a long time, and President Trump is the first president to stand up to them and send a clear message that the United States will no longer tolerate unfair trade practices,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement. “The details we announced today ensure farmers will not stand alone in facing unjustified retaliatory tariffs while President Trump continues working to solidify better and stronger trade deals around the globe.”
On a conference call introducing the latest aid package, Mr. Perdue also emphasized Mr. Trump’s empathy for farmers.
“President Trump has great affection for America’s farmers and ranchers, and he knows they are bearing the brunt of these trade disputes,” Mr. Perdue said.
Support for Mr. Trump among farmers has largely remained steady, but their patience is wearing thin. This week, about 60 soybean farmers from around the country descended on Washington for an annual “fly-in” in which they pressed members of Congress and administration officials to strike a deal with China and ratify a trade pact with Canada and Mexico.
“Patience is starting to run out,” said John Heisdorffer, who is the chairman of the American Soybean Association and a soybean grower from Iowa. “Farmers have been willing to stand behind it so far, but you can only be a patriot so long.”
Mr. Heisdorffer said that Mr. Trump remained popular in Iowa, however, and soybean farmers were mostly angry that China had not lived up to its promises to begin purchasing more soybeans from the United States.
Administration officials briefed soybean farmers on the bailout package during the visit to Washington this week. Accepting government handouts has been a difficult choice for many farmers who pride themselves on being able to use the land to provide for the families and who tend to be big believers in limited government and free enterprise.
“I think people are generally disappointed to have to get a subsidy,” said Brad Kremer, a soybean farmer from central Wisconsin. “It’s a hardworking, prideful people where I live.”
Still, Mr. Kremer said that farmers in Wisconsin were grateful for the assistance because without it, many of them would have gone out of business. Given the difficult economic conditions, he planted only 60 acres of soybeans this year compared with the 600 acres he usually plants.
In 2018, 49 Wisconsin farms filed for bankruptcy — the highest of any state in the country, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.
The farmers who came to Washington said they had a renewed sense of optimism after meeting with members of Congress from both parties and officials in the White House and Agriculture Department. They felt hopeful that the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement could pass this fall and that tension with China could start to ease.
The White House said on Wednesday that the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, and Robert E. Lighthizer, Mr. Trump’s top trade negotiator, will head to Shanghai next week for another round of trade talks. If that meeting goes well, a delegation from China is then expected to come to Washington for more discussions.
“Hopefully we will continue to progress,” Mr. Mnuchin told CNBC on Wednesday, adding that the countries still needed to address a lot of outstanding issues.
In the meantime, many farmers appear to be sticking with Mr. Trump and hoping for the best.
“Most of our neighbors that produce agricultural products are patriotic Americans that are supportive of the United States and the administration, so bashing the president is not going to do to them any favors,” said Joe Steinkamp, a soybean farmer from Evansville, Ind. “The best thing to do is be supportive of him and trust that smartest cookie in the jar. We’ll find out.”
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