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 PerdueSonny PerdueOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Supreme Court rules that pipeline can seize land from New Jersey | Study: EPA underestimated methane emissions from oil and gas development | Kevin McCarthy sets up task forces on climate, other issues The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Georgia election day is finally here; Trump hopes Pence 'comes through for us' to overturn results Civil war between MAGA, GOP establishment could hand Dems total control 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' do-or-die moment Biden touts 'progress' during 'candid' meetings on .5T plan Progressives push for fossil subsidy repeal in spending bill MORE (D-N.Y.) and two of the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential candidates, Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Gillibrand11 senators urge House to pass .5T package before infrastructure bill Hochul tells Facebook to 'clean up the act' on abortion misinformation after Texas law Democratic senators request probe into Amazon's treatment of pregnant employees MORE (N.Y.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — Officials want action on cyberattacks Senate panel advances antitrust bill that eyes Google, Facebook This week: Democrats face mounting headaches MORE (Minn.).

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Democratic Sens. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowDemocrats surprised, caught off guard by 'framework' deal Congress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B GOP warns McConnell won't blink on debt cliff MORE (Mich.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownBiden taps big bank skeptic to for top regulatory post Schumer announces Senate-House deal on tax 'framework' for .5T package Senate Democrats seeking information from SPACs, questioning 'misaligned incentives' MORE (Ohio), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyPhotos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress Senators denounce protest staged outside home of Justice Kavanaugh Al Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' MORE (Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayTexas abortion law creates 2022 headache for GOP Top Democrat says he'll push to address fossil fuel tax breaks in spending bill Faith leaders call on Congress to lead the response to a global pandemic MORE (Wash.), and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinDemocrats confront 'Rubik's cube on steroids' Warren, Daines introduce bill honoring 13 killed in Kabul attack This week: Democrats kick off chaotic fall with Biden's agenda at stake 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 GrassleyChuck GrassleyCongress facing shutdown, debt crisis with no plan B Biden confronts sinking poll numbers Congress needs to push for more accountability in gymnasts' tragic sex abuse 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.