President Trump on the road in Iowa and Illinois Thursday touted his support for American farmers, as well as a $12 billion farm aid package to offset tariffs he put on some of America’s biggest trading partners. Trump’s policy has come under fire by free-trade supporters in his own party, and few agriculture groups have applauded the package. Yamiche Alcindor reports.
The president hit the road today, and headed to the Midwest.
Yamiche Alcindor reports on Mr. Trump's efforts to reassure American farmers, amid rising concerns about the economic fallout of his ongoing trade war with China.
President Donald Trump:
China's doing a little number. They want to attack the Farm Belt because they know those — the farmers love me. They voted for me. We won every one of the states.
In Iowa and Illinois today, President Trump touted his support for American farmers and a $12 billion farm aid package he announced yesterday.
It's to offset tariffs he's put on China, Canada and Mexico, three of the U.S. agriculture industry's largest trading partners.
Make our farmers great again.
In Granite City, Illinois, Mr. Trump brushed off critics of his trade efforts, and told farmers to be patient.
Our farmers are patriots. And they're saying, the president is doing the right thing. They interview them on television. They say, I know it's going to be a little tough for a while, but he's doing the right thing.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.:
Our people feed the world. They don't want bailouts. They want more trade.
But the president's trade policy has come under fierce criticism by free-trade supporters in his own party. Even Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, normally a strong supporter of Mr. Trump, says trade backlash on farmers is largely an economic wound inflicted by the president himself.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.:
The farm families I work for would rather have open markets than have a government program. But there's obviously a reason for this program, and part of the financial stress that they're seeing is created by the government's decisions on trade.
But, today, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin dismissed that criticism.
It's not a bailout?
That is a ridiculous comment. It's not a bailout.
But few agriculture groups have applauded the aid package.
The president argues that, long term, farmers will be better off. Overwhelmingly, U.S. farmers say that's not the case. They're already facing tough global competition and fear the president's trade war will cost them access to valuable markets that they need to sell crops and other products abroad.
Mike Petefish is a farmer in Fairmont, Minnesota, and president of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.
So, really, what would be ideal for us is the reduction of tariffs and more — more bilateral trade agreements, more free market access.
Petefish says farmers are beginning to wonder if the administration has a plan on trade, or understands how farmers are affected.
That includes sorting out NAFTA negotiations with major buyers of U.S. pork, Canada and Mexico, as well as an exit strategy for an escalating tariff war with China, which imports about one-third of America's annual soybean crop.
Basically, we opened up Europe, and that's going to be a great thing for Europe. And it's — but really going to be a great thing for us.
President Trump today also hailed agreements made with the European Union yesterday to ease tariffs and other market restrictions for U.S. goods like soybeans.
That whole soybean thing is now going to be opened up. No tariffs, no nothing, free trade.
But China's market for U.S. Ag. products is vastly different than the E.U.'s. China's population is larger, younger and increasing, with an improving diet and rising demand for U.S. Ag. products as standards of living rise.
In comparison, the E.U.'s population is smaller, older and decreasing, with no signs of similar demand.
Petefish says the E.U. deal is a positive development, but not a replacement for China.
Certainly, the E.U. cannot replace the demand going into China. And so it's very important that we try and rebuild or regain that market share.
As for the $12 billion in aid, Petefish says losses in soybeans alone could amount to at least that much. And that doesn't include U.S. pork, corn and sorghum growers that have also been hurt by the tariffs.
At the end of the day, farmers want access to markets, not handouts. As farm incomes continue to fall and as farmers get squeezed financially, that will impact their voting behaviors, and you can rest assured that farmers are paying very, very close attention to this. If these low prices continue to linger around, farmers will have to consider very hard their choice in the upcoming elections.
And it's something Petefish says will be on rural voters' mind come the November midterms and a presidential race less than two years away.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Yamiche Alcindor.
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