Democratic senators rip Trump administration's trade aid to foreign firms, demand a halt

Democratic senators rip Trump administration's trade aid to foreign firms, demand a halt
© Greg Nash

A group of Senate Democrats is pushing the Agriculture Department (USDA) to halt trade-related aid to foreign-owned corporations as the Trump administration faces backlash for more than $60 million in payments to a Brazilian meatpacking firm.

In a Wednesday letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueWe want better agricultural research, but who will take the lead? Overnight Health Care: Trump reportedly lashed out at health chief over polling | Justices to hear ObamaCare birth control case | Trump rolls back Michelle Obama school lunch rules Trump to roll back Michelle Obama's school lunch rules on vegetables, fruits MORE released publicly on Thursday, nine Democratic senators criticized the USDA for purchasing pork from JBS USA, an American subsidiary of Brazilian corporation JBS SA.

“It is unacceptable that American taxpayers have been subsidizing our competitors through trade assistance,” wrote the senators, including Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump legal team offers brisk opening defense of president Impeachment has been a dud for Democrats Trump insults Democrats, calls on followers to watch Fox News ahead of impeachment trial MORE (D-N.Y.) and two of the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential candidates, Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandGOP-Biden feud looms over impeachment trial Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial MORE (N.Y.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharDes Moines Register endorses Elizabeth Warren as Democratic presidential nominee Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for week two of impeachment trial Moore defends Sanders's reputation: 'We don't want the fake, and the phony and the fraudulent' MORE (Minn.).

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Democratic Sens. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSenate fails to get deal to speed up fight over impeachment rules The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial John Lewis to miss Martin Luther King Jr. Day event MORE (Mich.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownSchiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line Sunday shows - All eyes on Senate impeachment trial Senate Democrat: 'Fine' to hear from Hunter Biden MORE (Ohio), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahySenators ask FDA to crack down on non-dairy milks, cheeses Lawmaker wants Chinese news outlet to register as foreign agent Overnight Defense: Book says Trump called military leaders 'dopes and babies' | House reinvites Pompeo for Iran hearing | Dems urge Esper to reject border wall funding request MORE (Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care: Trump becomes first sitting president to attend March for Life | Officials confirm second US case of coronavirus | Trump officials threaten California funding over abortion law Top health officials brief senators on coronavirus as infections spread Administration to give Senate briefing on coronavirus MORE (Wash.), and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinSenators ask FDA to crack down on non-dairy milks, cheeses Senate fails to get deal to speed up fight over impeachment rules Lawmakers introduce bill to bolster artificial intelligence, quantum computing MORE (Wis.) also signed the letter.

“We ask that you ensure these commodity purchases are carried out in a manner that most benefits the American farmer’s bottom line—not the business interests of foreign corporations.”

U.S. farmers and ranchers are caught in the crosshairs of Trump’s trade disputes, including the nearly year-long trade war with China. After Trump raised tariffs on Chinese goods earlier this month, Beijing boosted import taxes on $60 billion in U.S. agricultural exports.

Trump rolled out $12 billion in direct aid and purchases for farmers and ranchers targeted by tariffs and said last week he would release another $16 billion in assistance.

JBS USA, the second-largest meatpacker in the U.S., has received $64 million in pork purchases from the first tranche of aid, which the company says will go to American hog-raisers that sell to their production plants.

But Democrats have spoken out against the Trump administration sending any federal aid to a company owned by a foreign corporation.

“It is counterproductive and contradictory for these companies to receive assistance paid for with U.S. taxpayer dollars intended to help American farmers struggling with this administration's trade policy,” wrote the senators.

The senators also cited the USDA’s $240,000 contract to purchase pork from Smithfield in 2018, which is owned by Chinese corporation WH Group. Smithfield declined the offer after Republicans, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyGraham vows Biden, Ukraine probe after impeachment trial Social security emerges as latest flash point in Biden-Sanders tussle Trump to sign USMCA next Wednesday MORE (R-Iowa), spoke out against it.

But GOP lawmakers have been mum about JBS USA and Joesely and Wesley Batista, the Brazilian brothers who own its parent corporation, JBS SA.

The Batistas have admitted to bribing thousands of Brazilian officials, have spent time in and out of jail in Brazil, and are facing accusations of insider trading and lying to prosecutors. The Justice Department is also investigating the Batistas for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, according to court records obtained by The Hill.

In a statement last week, Perdue dismissed concerns about JBS USA’s ownership and defended the USDA’s decision to aid the company.

“These are legal companies operating in the United States. This is no different than people buying Volkswagens or other foreign autos where their executives may have been guilty of some issue along the way,” Perdue said.