Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Tuesday he feels confident that President Donald Trump will not allow farmers “to bear the brunt” of a possible trade war with China.
The former Georgia governor also suggested the Trump administration might consider economic “mitigation efforts” to aid U.S. farmers should relations with China continue to harden. He did not specify what form those efforts might take and said the White House plans to wait and see before making any moves.
“Hopefully we can negotiate our way out of this like the president has led with aluminum and steel, but that remains to be seen,” Perdue told reporters after touring a greenhouse here. “But I’m convinced the president will not allow agricultural producers to bear the brunt of any kind of trade retaliation efforts.”
Perdue’s comments came a day after Beijing announced plans to impose retaliatory tariffs of at least 15 percent on scores of American exports in response to the Trump administration’s new duties on Chinese products. Most of the goods targeted are agricultural, including pork and many types of fresh and dried fruit and nuts.
Most of Georgia’s biggest ag exports, including broiler chickens and eggs, appeared to be exempt from China’s action, but officials still don’t know the full impact of the tariffs on the state. It’s currently unclear whether Georgia peanuts, for example, fall under the category of “other fresh or dried nuts” facing a new 15 percent tariff. Peaches and nectarines do face a new duty.
China’s announcement sent stock markets tumbling on Monday, although they closed higher on Tuesday.
Many farmers enthusiastically backed Trump’s candidacy in 2016, but there has been angst in rural areas about being particularly vulnerable in the event of a trade war. Perdue on Tuesday acknowledged those fears were at least partially “legitimate.”
“Unfortunately, historically agriculture is known as sort of the tip of the spear in any type of trade disruption or trade disputes. That seems to be the case here as well,” he said.
There is some fear that if American farmers can’t find other markets to sell to abroad, more crops will stay in the U.S., saturating markets and lowering prices.
Georgia’s agriculture industry contributes $73.3 billion to the state’s economy, with one in seven people in the state working in either agriculture, forestry or related fields, according to the University of Georgia’s Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development. China in 2017 was Georgia’s third-largest export market across all sectors, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
Trump’s initial move to impose steep tariffs on foreign-made steel and aluminum last month was met with stiff but polite opposition from Georgia Republicans, including some of his top allies in the state.
Perdue kicked off the first of a four-day RV tour through the Midwest on Tuesday, with stops at a greenhouse operated by Mastronardi Produce, a pork processing plant and Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. He’ll make other stops in Ohio and Kentucky this week.
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