No need for more U.S. farm aid after China deal, Perdue says

(Dave Bedard photo)

Austin | Reuters — With China poised to increase purchases of U.S. agricultural goods this year as part of a Phase One trade deal, the U.S. agriculture secretary said on Monday there is no need for a third year of trade-related aid for farmers.

Farmers have increasingly relied on aid from the U.S. government to survive during the past two years as exports have lagged throughout the U.S.-China trade war. But USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue said China will soon begin buying U.S. farm goods to meet the $40 billion in agricultural purchase agreements it made, alleviating growers’ need for more aid (all figures US$).

China, which typically buys the bulk of its U.S. agriculture products during the fall and early winter, will likely change the timing of its purchases, Perdue said.

“If China is going to achieve that, and we believe they are, we think they have to buy earlier than the traditional export season from the United States,” said Perdue, speaking at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention.

His remarks came one day after U.S. President Donald Trump addressed the convention, promising farmers that the deal will be good for them.

Washington and Beijing signed the pact on Jan. 15, though tariffs on major U.S. farm exports have not been removed and structural economic differences were not addressed.

Perdue said the third tranche of a $16 billion aid package announced in May will be paid to farmers “imminently,” but that they should not expect a 2020 aid package.

China bought roughly 60 per cent of U.S. soybean exports before the trade war and also was a major buyer of sorghum, dairy and pork.

Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He said Chinese firms will buy U.S. products, “based on market conditions,” raising doubts that the country will meet its commitments under the pact.

Growers are used to dealing with seasonality in the export program and could afford to wait without fresh trade aid, said Lane Osswald, 44, a farmer from Eldorado, Ohio.

“Everyone is prepared for the South American harvest to hit the market every year,” Osswald said.

Soybean futures have dropped 1.3 per cent since the trade deal was signed.

The China deal, and the recent passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, will allow farmers to prosper, Perdue said.

Trump gained support among U.S. farm families at the end of 2019, a Reuters/Ipsos poll data showed, as Trump touted the trade deal ahead of its signing. Farmers broadly voted for Trump in 2016.

— Mark Weinraub is a Reuters commodities correspondent based in Chicago.

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