WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Thursday unveiled a $16 billion bailout for farmers hurt by his trade war with Beijing, signaling a protracted fight ahead that is already prompting some American companies to shift business away from China.
Trump, flanked by farmers and ranchers in cowboy hats during remarks at the White House, said China had "taken advantage" of the United States for far too long and vowed to protect an industry that has been "used as a vehicle" by Beijing to hurt America's economy.
"Farmers have been attacked by China," Trump said, adding that if the United States is in a trade war, "we're winning it big."
In Blue Earth County, Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap welcomed some relief. The aid is badly needed and "hopefully, we'll be able to pay some bills," Paap said. But he added that ongoing subsidies are no substitute for a trade deal.
"We prefer trade over aid," he said, using a phrase that has become a battle cry among soybean farmers suffering from tariffs China placed on U.S. agricultural products in response to Trump's imposition of protectionist levies on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports.
In January, Paap priced his soybeans in anticipation of a trade agreement between the two countries. "We thought they would have resolved this by now," he said.
Hopes for a quick resolution to the China trade fight have faded, with both countries hardening their positions after a trade deal collapsed this month. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday that no additional meetings with Beijing were scheduled and that he was encouraging American firms to reorient their supply chains and source their products elsewhere.
Progress toward a trade agreement between the United States and China collapsed after U.S. negotiators accused Beijing of reneging on terms it had previously committed to. Significant differences remain over how tariffs should be rolled back between the countries, and whether the negotiated provisions must be enshrined in Chinese law.
While both sides initially suggested they would continue talking, Beijing has also begun bracing for a long trade fight. In a defiant statement this week, China's president, Xi Jinping, called for the Chinese people to begin a modern "long march," invoking a time of hardship from the country's history, which many China watchers viewed as a hardening of Beijing's trade stance.
"I am growing more and more skeptical that there is a place where the two sides can come to a deal," said Edward Alden, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. "If I look at the positions the two sides have taken at the moment, I do not see a path to a deal."
Trump on Thursday once again suggested that he was happy to keep his trade fight going indefinitely.
"I remain hopeful that at some point we'll get together with China," he said. "If it happens, great. If it doesn't happen, that's fine."
Staff writer Jim Spencer contributed to this report.