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USDA says taxpayers will compensate ranchers, farmers for any losses over trade dispute

USAgNet - April 12, 2018

WASHINGTON, DC - The United States Department of Agriculture said it would protect the U.S. farming industry should China impose tariffs on products including beef, pork, and soybeans, among other commodities. But the USDA declined to go into details on how it would protect the industry, saying it could not risk giving China a chance to counter its plans.

"The president has directed the secretary to use the authorities he has to protect farmers. It wouldn’t be prudent to give away our playbook and let China know exactly how we would plan to mitigate what they have threatened. But we can say this: We will not allow our agricultural producers to bear the brunt of China’s retaliation, as we defend our own interests as a nation," a USDA representative told the Washington Examiner.

Beijing threatened the retaliatory tariffs last week, following proposed tariffs by President Trump on a wide variety of goods from China, including machines and technology. The threatened levels have reached $150 billion a year. The U.S. agriculture industry has been caught in the crossfire, with China targeting it in the hopes of getting the most leverage in the fight.

The administration has promised to step in should that happen, but remained vague on the details. In comments Monday before a Cabinet meeting, President Trump conceded that the industry could be hurt but implied that it would get some form of government assistance.

Industry officials speaking anonymously told the Washington Examiner that the amount needed to cover ranchers and farmers' losses should the China tariffs go into effect "could be really enormous" and that it was not clear if the administration could produce the funding even if it wanted to.

The Washington Examiner reports that the USDA may already have some plans in place. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said last year that the department was working on contingency plans for the industry should the ongoing North American Free Trade Agreements re-negotiations collapse and the U.S. pulls out of that agreement. He told agriculture industry trade journal Pro Farmer last week that the USDA was looking into similar "mitigation" regarding any action from China.

China has threatened penalties on numerous items including 25 percent on U.S. beef, soybeans, cotton, and pork, and 15 percent on fruit and other commodities.

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