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National Editorial & Columnists

EDITORIAL ELSEWHERE: Farmers want trade not aid

Trump administration's bailout payments are no substitute for open markets

Government checks from the Trump administration’s farm bailout are hitting mailboxes, causing frustration both for farmers and taxpayers.

President Donald Trump announced the program earlier this year to make direct payments to farmers as a way to make up for declining crop prices attributed to Trump’s trade disputes with China, Mexico and others. The payments could total as much as $12 billion, but there are major concerns about how and where that money is being sent.

Dozens of Iowa farmers are receiving checks for less than $100 in the first round of payouts, according to federal data obtained by the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization that tracks U.S. farm subsidies and advocates against large corporate farming practices. Such meager sums are unlikely to offset lost revenue in any meaningful way.

This is another expensive reminder that Trump’s trade war didn’t have to happen.

On the other end of the spectrum, however, watchdogs found at least 85 recipients across the country getting more than $125,000, which is supposed to be the program’s limit. And more than 1,000 farmers in the nation’s 50 largest cities are receiving payments, including in major urban centers such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City.

The fact U.S. farm support programs sometime funnel taxpayer dollars to wealthy people who aren’t real working farmers has been well-documented and is the source of common criticism. It should surprise no one that the federal government is not always great at divvying up resources, especially as part of such a hastily devised and implemented program.

Most frustrating of all, these figures provide only a snapshot of the potential waste and abuse in the farm bailouts. The data provided by the federal government represent less than 10 percent of the total payments expected to be paid out to farmers.

This is another expensive reminder that Trump’s trade war didn’t have to happen.

Farmers want trade, not aid, as both Iowa’s U.S. senators and other politicians have repeatedly said. The farm economy already was struggling under falling crop prices when Trump took office, but his decision to exchange trade barriers with the United States’ international partners has undoubtedly made things worse.

Throughout the international trade ordeal, Trump administration officials have tried to pin the blame for farmers’ woes on other countries. When Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced details of the payout program earlier this year, he referred to “unfair retaliatory tariffs” and “the adverse effects of other countries’ restrictions.”

To the contrary, these are self-inflicted wounds. Yes, Trump and his associates are correct when they complain other countries have imposed unfair barriers to American producers, as has been the case throughout modern history. However, a vast body of economic and geopolitical expertise tells us there are no real winners in a trade war.

Retaliatory tariffs and their negative impact on Iowa farmers were a foreseeable outcome of Trump’s trade policies. And as we have written before, the worst consequences may be years in the future. As our trade relationships deteriorate, Americans will find it difficult or impossible to find new markets for our agricultural products.

We are in just the first harvest season of Trump’s trade war, with no apparent end in sight. Throwing billions in cash at the problem is no substitute for long-term stability and open markets.

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