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 PerdueTrump administration finalizes plan to open up protected areas of Tongass National Forest to logging  Perdue has found the right path in National Forests Democrats seek clarity on payroll tax deferral for federal workers 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 SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats blast Trump after report reveals he avoided income taxes for 10 years: 'Disgusting' Biden refuses to say whether he would support expanding Supreme Court Schumer says Trump tweet shows court pick meant to kill off ObamaCare MORE (D-N.Y.) and two of the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential candidates, Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandSunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for SCOTUS confirmation hearings before election Sunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Suburban moms are going to decide the 2020 election MORE (N.Y.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Klobuchar3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing Social media platforms put muscle into National Voter Registration Day Battle lines drawn on precedent in Supreme Court fight MORE (Minn.).

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Democratic Sens. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowSunday Shows: Trump's court pick dominates Booker says he will ask Amy Coney Barrett if she will recuse herself from presidential election-related cases Schumer says Trump tweet shows court pick meant to kill off ObamaCare MORE (Mich.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownMnuchin says he and Pelosi have agreed to restart coronavirus stimulus talks Harris faces pivotal moment with Supreme Court battle Remote work poses state tax challenges MORE (Ohio), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyBipartisan representatives demand answers on expired surveillance programs Democrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court Battle over timing complicates Democratic shutdown strategy MORE (Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurraySenate Democrats introduce legislation to probe politicization of pandemic response Trump health officials grilled over reports of politics in COVID-19 response CDC director pushes back on Caputo claim of 'resistance unit' at agency MORE (Wash.), and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinSenators introduce bipartisan bill to mandate digital apps disclose country of origin Keep teachers in the classroom Cher raised million for Biden campaign at LGBTQ-themed fundraiser 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 GrassleyGOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power The Hill's 12:30 Report: Ginsburg lies in repose Top GOP senators say Hunter Biden's work 'cast a shadow' over Obama Ukraine policy 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.