The Trump administration on Thursday unveiled a $16 billion farm aid package to offset losses from a 10-month trade war with China.
The administration said payment rates to farmers would be determined by where they farm rather than what crops they grow.
The package, the bulk of which will be spent on direct payments, surprised growers and traders who had expected to learn separate payment rates for soybeans, hogs, corn and other crops in the Department of Agriculture (USDA) briefing, reports Reuters.
Many farm groups welcomed the move, but called for a trade deal with China as soon as possible.
Some Democrats have slammed the plan, calling it a ‘band-aid’ and said the county-based payment system could leave some farmers with reduced aid.
Farmers, a key constituency that helped carry US President Donald Trump to his 2016 electoral win, have been among the hardest hit from a trade dispute with China, once a destination for more than 60 per cent of US soybean exports.
“The farmers have been attacked by China,” Trump said in a press conference about the aid package.
“But the $16 billion of funds will ... make clear that no country has veto on America’s economic and national security,” he said.
The trade dispute, which escalated this month after Washington and Beijing hiked tariffs on imports of each other’s goods, has left US farmers sitting on record volumes of soybeans with China halting purchases.
USDA officials said on Thursday they will roll out $14.5 billion in direct payments in three separate tranches with the first one planned for late July.
“The package we are announcing today ensures that farmers will not bear the brunt of those trade practices by China or any other nations,” Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said.
“While farmers would tell you they’d rather have trade not aid, without the trade ... they’re going to need some support,” Perdue said.
China, the world’s top soybean importer, curbed purchases of US soy last year when Trump imposed tariffs on Chinese goods, prompting China to retaliate with tariffs on US soy, pork, corn and other products.
An imminent trade deal between Washington and Beijing seems unlikely as the trade tensions between the world’s top two economies rose after US placed China’s Huawei Technologies on a trade blacklist last week, triggering sharp protest from China.
Perdue also said the second and third tranches, with exact amounts yet to be decided, will be dependant on the progress in the trade talks and whether the US will get a deal with China.
The total package also includes $1.4 billion of support through food purchases and $100 million allocated to development of foreign markets, he added.