Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the odds of a multibillion-dollar round of trade war payments to farmers this year are “less than 10%,” although a senior lawmaker said the payments may be “absolutely vital” for survival in the Farm Belt. China will turn to the U.S. market for soybeans “late this spring, this summer,” Perdue predicted during a House Agriculture Committee hearing on Wednesday.
The Trump administration disbursed $23 billion in cash to farmers and ranchers to mitigate the impact of the trade war on U.S. agriculture in 2018 and 2019. Nearly half of farmers believe payments will be made this year, according to a Purdue University poll released this week.
“I would say, from my perspective, less than 10%,” Perdue told reporters when asked the odds of payments this year through the stopgap Market Facilitation Program. “I’m trying to emphasize for producers … to plant for the market.”
Perdue repeatedly told the House Agriculture Committee that China was revising regulations as a first step in complying with the Phase One Sino-U.S. agreement, so there was no reason to expect MFP payments this year. Democrats contended the message was muddied because of what President Trump said on social media on February 21: “If our formally targeted farmers need additional aid until such time as the trade deals with China, Mexico, Canada, and others fully kick in, that aid will be provided by the federal government.”
House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson said Trump’s comments “make me wonder what is going on with these trade deals.” Texas Representative Michael Conaway, the Republican leader on the panel, said, “I strongly believe that unless something gives here very soon, an announcement of an MFP III will be absolutely vital to the survival of our producers.”
The Phase One Sino-U.S. agreement, which took effect in mid-February, calls on China to buy $40 billion worth of U.S. food, agricultural, and seafood exports this year and in 2021, double the volume seen before the trade war.
“I am telling farmers not to anticipate” payments, said Perdue in his opening comments at the hearing. “Our goal is not to continue the Market Facilitation Program.”
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