Federal Payments to Farmers Have Tripled Since 2017, and Trump Just Promised Even More
It was March 2, 2018, when President Donald Trump’s top trade adviser appeared on Fox Business Network to reassure Americans that other countries wouldn’t retaliate against new tariffs proposed by the White House.
Those tariffs on imported steel and aluminum were the first major battle in what’s become an expensive and largely unsuccessful 2 1/2 year-long trade war. But even at that early stage, it was obvious to some observers that the trade war wouldn’t be as easy or beneficial as the Trump administration was promising. “Should we expect China and others to come back and say, ‘Oh really America? Well take this, I’m going to raise tariffs and retaliate on farm goods,” Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo directly asked Peter Navarro, director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, during that March 2 interview.
“I don’t believe any country is going to retaliate for the simple reason that we are the most lucrative and biggest market in the world,” Navarro told her.
Well, he was wrong. Retaliation from several countries, but especially from China, caused exports of American agricultural goods to plummet in the years that followed. In 2017, the last year before the trade war began, China imported more than $19 billion in American farm goods, which fell to $9 billion in 2018 and rebounded weakly to $13 billion in 2019. Exports to other countries have been unable to make up the difference and, as a result, overall agricultural exports have fallen since the trade war began—ironically, given Trump’s focus on trade deficits, that means America now has a smaller farm goods trade surplus than at any time since 2006.
But to fix one self-inflicted wound, the Trump administration made another. Starting in 2018 and ramping up last year, the White House began making billions of dollars of direct payments to farmers
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