The government paid a record $41.6 billion in a variety of subsidies to farmers in 2020, double the amount they received in 2018, when the Trump-era cash gusher began flowing, said the Environmental Working Group on Wednesday.
The USDA sent $23 billion in trade war payments to more than a half million farming operations, with the lion's share of the aid going to row-crop producers, said the Government Accountability Office on Thursday. Historically underserved farmers received less than 4 percent of the money.
Although China purchased a record amount of U.S. farm exports over the past two years, it wasn't enough to comply with the "phase one" agreement that de-escalated the Sino-U.S. trade war, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Thursday. "We obviously have some unfinished business with reference to phase one," Vilsack told lawmakers a day after President Biden pointed to Chinese shortfalls.
China accounted for 95 percent of the $27 billion in U.S. farm export sales that were lost in 2018 and 2019 as a result of the trade war begun by President Trump, said a USDA report. Sales to China rebounded after the "phase one" trade agreement, but U.S. market share has remained lower than before the tit-for-tat tariffs.
The cargo pileup at West Coast ports may have had a greater impact on farm exports from California than the Sino-U.S. trade war did, said three economists on Wednesday. They estimated losses of $2.1 billion in foreign sales during a five-month period because of port congestion, comparing that to economic losses of about $500 million for California agriculture during the first year of the trade war.
When Trump appointees at the USDA parceled out trade war assistance to farmers, they exaggerated the damage in 2019 and over-compensated corn and wheat growers, said a congressional agency on Monday. "This report confirms that the Trump USDA picked winners and losers in their trade programs and left everyone else behind," said Senate Agriculture chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat.
The United States will press China to live up to its commitments in the "phase one" agreement, said U.S. trade representative Katherine Tai on Monday in unveiling the Biden administration's "strategic vision for re-aligning trade policies toward China." During a speech at a Washington think tank, Tai said agricultural trade was an "unpredictable sector" given Chinese willingness to intervene in the market.
Speaking to a farm conference, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said China's adherence to its commitment to buy mammoth quantities of U.S. farm exports will be a test of the Asian nation's place in global relations. While China has buoyed commodity prices with its purchases, it is not on track to meet the goal of importing $43.6 billion worth of U.S. food, agricultural, and seafood products by the end of December.
When crop insurance indemnities and unemployment benefits are counted, the government sent $57.7 billion to farm operations and farm households in 2020, while the pandemic sent the U.S. economy into recession, said a working paper by USDA economists. It was the highest estimate yet of federal assistance to farmers last year and the most inclusive.
Ag exports, a key part of U.S. farm revenue, are expected to generate 36 cents of every $1 in cash income this year, thanks to high commodity prices as the world recovers its appetite and the pandemic recedes. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the country ought to diversify its sales to a broader range of markets.
By a wide margin, soybeans are the most valuable U.S. farm export, accounting for 18 cents of every $1 in sales during calendar 2020, said the USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service on Wednesday.
Although China has yet to fulfill its "phase one" promises of mammoth purchases of U.S. farm exports, "the fact is, they need us," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilscak during a digital news conference. He added that, with China back in the U.S. market, commodity prices are high enough that, "I'm not sure there's necessarily a need for any trade-related assistance [to farmers] at this point."
The world's most populous country is already its largest meat-importing nation and "looks like it's poised to play a major role in meat markets in the future," said USDA senior economist Fred Gale on Thursday. China's imports of beef, pork, and poultry are projected by the USDA to grow 29 percent in the coming decade.
China bought a mammoth 5.85 tonnes of American-grown corn last week, including 2.108 million tonnes on the same day that the White House said the "phase one agreement" that de-escalated the trade war was under review. "The national security team, the newly confirmed secretary of state, President Biden are all reviewing all aspects of our national security approach, including certainly our relationship with China," said press secretary Jen Psaki.
China failed to meet its "phase one" target for imports of U.S. food, agriculture, and seafood products despite a surge in purchases that began late last summer, said the Peterson Institute for International Economics on Thursday.
The ethanol industry, which says it has lost $3.8 billion in sales since March, is looking to the Biden administration for relief at the same time that farm groups want the new president to resolve the trade war with China. But a Purdue University professor said it was unlikely Biden would immediately undertake broad-scale trade reform, pointing out that "he has other priorities that take precedence."
Despite the effects of the pandemic and the trade war, U.S. farm income this year will be the highest since 2013 because of the largest federal payments ever — $46.5 billion, triple the usual amount, the government said on Wednesday. Think tank analysts said farm income would fall in 2021 with the expiration of Trump-era bailouts, but the drop-off will be lessened by the ongoing rally in commodity prices and increased ag exports.
While China may not meet the first-year target under the "phase one" trade agreement, it is buying huge amounts of U.S. food, agriculture, and seafood products that could total $31 billion over 12 months, said Iowa State economist Wendong Zhang at a farm conference on Thursday. Neither Zhang nor Ohio State professor Ian Sheldon said they expected the Biden administration to roll back U.S. tariffs on China in the near term.