President Donald Trump announced a $16 billion bailout for farmers impacted by the country’s ongoing trade dispute with China this past Thursday. Farmers who grow soybeans, and other farm products China has tariffed, have been negatively affected by the tit-for-tat trade negotiations, after the tariffs led to a drop in market prices.
“While the [bailout] package will certainly help farmers that are in a desperate situation, it is not what the farmers ultimately would like to have,” said Joel Rotz of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau’s government affairs and communications division. “They would like to have the markets back: That’s where they would like their money to be coming from. While the administration’s funding of this package is appreciated, it certainly will not cover the losses.”
Rotz said the details of how the money will be disbursed haven’t been made public yet. Pennsylvania is one the country’s leading dairy producers.
“The trade dispute continues to be very concerning and is wearing on [farmers'] patience,” Rotz said. “They really do want to see it get resolved.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said in a statement that the administration’s intention with the bailout is correct, “but it’s far past time for the Administration to reach an agreement that makes these measures unnecessary.”
This aid package comes after the administration offered a $12 billion bailout in 2018.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a vocal critic of the Trump administration’s steel and aluminum tariffs, called the latest bailout a “problematic development.”
“I mean, think about what we’re doing,” the Pennsylvania Republican told reporters last week. “We’re inviting this retaliation that denies our farmers – the most productive farmers on the planet – the opportunity to sell their products overseas. And then we say, ‘But don’t worry, we’ll have taxpayers send you some checks and make it OK.’ That’s a very bad approach. I didn’t support the last round and I don’t support a subsequent round.”
“Tariffs are not in and of themselves a good thing," Toomey added. "Tariffs, at best, can be a tool that might produce good results, but they are themselves dangerous and a painful tool that hits both the country at which the tariffs are being imposed and the country that is doing the imposition.”
Toomey said he’s spoken directly to President Trump about his concerns, but said, “The president doesn't agree with my macro view on trade.”
When asked if he thought President Trump understood the impact of tariffs, Toomey replied, “I assume the president understands how this works, but you’d have to ask him why he comes to the conclusion he comes to.”
In a statement, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue characterized the bailout as a response to China’s “unjustified” retaliatory behavior.
“China hasn’t played by the rules for a long time and President Trump is standing up to them, sending the clear message that the United States will no longer tolerate their unfair trade practices, which include non-tariff trade barriers and the theft of intellectual property,” said Perdue. “President Trump has great affection for America’s farmers and ranchers, and he knows they are bearing the brunt of these trade disputes. In fact, I’ve never known of a president that has been more concerned or interested in farmer wellbeing and long-term profitability than President Trump.”
Penn State University economics professor Barry Ickes said China is targeting agriculture in states like Pennsylvania for political reasons.
“The Chinese know that agricultural states went for Trump, so they are trying to punish his voters to put pressure on him." That, he said, is "why agriculture is in the crosshairs.”
But for Pennsylvania farmers, the bailout feels more personal than political.
“Farmers are proud people and they want to feed the world,” said Rotz, of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. “Farmers do not like to have handouts.”