WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump attacked China on Wednesday for targeting American farm products with new tariffs in what he said would be a failed effort to gain a trade advantage over the United States.
"China is targeting our farmers, who they know I love & respect, as a way of getting me to continue allowing them to take advantage of the U.S.," Trump said on Twitter. "They are being vicious in what will be their failed attempt. We were being nice - until now!"
Beijng recently imposed new tariffs on an array of American farm produce, including soy beans, corn, wheat, cotton, rice, sorghum, beef, pork, poultry, fish, dairy products, nuts and vegetables.
It is part of a tit-for-tat tariff battle that Trump is waging with China in an effort to get Beijing to further open up its markets and end what the U.S. views as onerous requirements that American companies hand over proprietary technology information in order to do business in China.
The U.S. has chronically run a trade deficit with China, although Trump overstated the 2017 figure as $517 billion. The U.S. government says the deficit actually was $375.6 billion.
With the new tariffs in China, some U.S. farmers, many of them among Trump's biggest political supporters in the 2016 election, have voiced their dismay at declining sales.
With the agricultural financial fallout occurring less than four months before nationwide congressional elections in November, the Trump administration said Tuesday it would provide up to $12 billion in aid to farmers who have been hurt by the president's tariff policies. He has said the tariffs he has imposed are needed to force foreign governments to improve their trade deals with the U.S.
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the compensation to U.S. farmers was "a firm statement that other nations cannot bully our agricultural producers to force the United States to cave in. This administration will not stand by while our hardworking agricultural producers bear the brunt of unfriendly and illegal tariffs.”
White House officials contend the tariffs inflict some necessary minor, domestic short-term pain in order to achieve long-term large gains for the U.S. economy.
However, several lawmakers, including farm-state Republicans, attacked Trump's compensation plan for U.S. farmers.
“Our farmers want trade, not aid,” declared Congressman Kevin Cramer, a Republican from North Dakota, a Midwestern state where agriculture alone accounts for one-fourth of the revenue base.
“This trade war is cutting the legs out from under farmers, and the White House’s ‘plan’ is to spend $12 billion on gold crutches,” said Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, where beef and corn are the top agricultural products. “This administration’s tariffs and bailouts aren’t going to make America great again. They’re just going to make it 1929 again.”
Sen. Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, where soybeans are the top row crop, said, “You have a terrible policy that sends farmers to the poorhouse. And then you put them on welfare. And we borrow the money from other countries. It’s hard to believe there isn’t an outright revolt right now in Congress.”
A Democratic House member, Jackie Speier, whose prosperous California district is known for its Brussels sprouts and grape production, wrote on Twitter: "OK @POTUS -- you created this mess with your trade war and now you are going to spend $12 billion to placate the farmers that voted for you.”
The American Soybean Association said in a statement, “While soybean growers appreciate the administration’s recognition that tariffs have caused reduced exports and lower prices, the announced plan provides only short-term assistance." It called “for a longer-term strategy to alleviate mounting soybean surpluses and continued low prices, including a plan to remove the harmful tariffs.”
Mark Santucci, a farmer of tart cherries in the state of Michigan, told VOA that while the relief programs will not directly benefit him, “I am glad the president has decided to implement it. I think we are in for a long battle with the Chinese government, so this program will go a long way in helping our farmers who are on the front line.”