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Lawmakers respond to ag aid package
USDA action a good start, but more details needed
new deh usda aid package response roberts mug
Pat Roberts

 WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States Department of Agriculture Tuesday announced it would authorize $12 billion in programs to aid farmers harmed by retaliatory trade actions from nations angered by recently imposed U.S. trade tariffs. These programs would provide relief to many Kansas producers who have been hurt the most, with pork, wheat, corn, soybeans and sorghum on the program’s list.

The move by the USDA brought swift response from members of the Kansas congressional delegation. While supporting the aid package, the elected officials viewed it as a superficial cure to a larger problem.

“This is a start, but it’s more or less putting a band-aid on a deep wound,” said First District Congressman Roger Marshall, a Republican member of the House Ag Committee. “I applaud the USDA for acknowledging the impact these tariffs have had on American producers, but this is only short-term relief, the main focus should still be on getting our trade agreements wrapped up.”

Many details remain to be ironed out, as it is still unclear how the $12 billion will be dispersed and if losses already incurred will be covered. The USDA is planning to roll the program out in September.

“The next step would be to couple this effort with opening new markets and finishing (North American Free Trade Agreement), that’s what I hope to see,” Marshall said. “No one wants to see government payments instead of markets, but we need to take care of producers as this administration works to end unfair trading practices and find a more permanent solutions.”

NAFTA is an agreement signed by Canada, Mexico, and the United States, creating a trilateral trade bloc in North America since January 1994. Popular with farmers, the trade pact has come under scrutiny from President Donald Trump who has vowed to renegotiate it.

Meanwhile, trade retaliation has impacted numerous U.S. products, Marshall said. “I think the message sent today by the USDA is for our farmers to hang on and believe in this administration, that our farmers are not being forgotten about.”   

USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said that Tuesday’s announcement serves as “a short-term solution to allow President Trump time to work on long-term trade deals to benefit agriculture and the entire U.S. economy.” 

But, “given the low prices farmers have been facing, the tariff situation is making things worse for producers as we speak,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee. “Trade remains the single best solution to the tough economy in farm country.”

Roberts said he would look closely at the president’s assistance proposal. “But I hope that the administration is also working to quickly resolve the tariff situation and restore the export markets our farmers, ranchers, and growers rely on.”

In the Senate Farm Bill, Roberts worked to improve and expand trade promotion programs, such as the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program.

“We need to work together to finalize and pass a Farm Bill for our producers,” Roberts said. “The Administration’s announcement underscores the tough times we face in agriculture with low prices, surpluses, and uncertain trade circumstances. It is all the more reason to put politics aside and provide farmers and ranchers with a Farm Bill to give them certainty and predictability.”

From his post as both Chairman of the Agriculture Committee and as a senior member of the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction on trade, Roberts said he has long been outspoken on the benefits of increased access to foreign markets for American farmers and ranchers – taking his concerns directly to President Trump, U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and other high-ranking officials in the administration.