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 PerduePlan to lift roadless rule in Alaska's Tongass national forest threatens economy House Democrat asks USDA to halt payouts to Brazilian meatpacker under federal probe From state agriculture departments to Congress: Our farmers need the USMCA 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 SchumerTurf war derails bipartisan push on surprise medical bills Senate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA CEO group pushes Trump, Congress on paid family, medical leave MORE (D-N.Y.) and two of the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential candidates, Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandAdvocacy groups decry Trump's 'anti-family policies' ahead of White House summit This bipartisan plan is the most progressive approach to paid parental leave Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' MORE (N.Y.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSenate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial Booker says he will not make December debate stage Yang: 2020 rivals in Senate should be able to campaign amid impeachment MORE (Minn.).

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“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 GrassleyThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Horowitz did not find evidence Obama asked for probe of Trump 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.