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 PerdueUSDA eases relocation timeline as researchers flee agency The Hill's Morning Report - How will Trump be received in Dayton and El Paso? USDA office move may have broken law, watchdog says 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 SchumerLewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Appropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down MORE (D-N.Y.) and two of the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential candidates, Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandGillibrand: Rosy economic outlook not 'reflected in everyday, kitchen-table issues families are facing' Chris Wallace becomes Trump era's 'equal opportunity inquisitor' Steve King to Gillibrand: Odds of me resigning same as yours of winning presidential nomination MORE (N.Y.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharPoll: Nearly 4 in 5 say they will consider candidates' stances on cybersecurity The Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Native American advocates question 2020 Democrats' commitment MORE (Minn.).

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Democratic Sens. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowUSDA eases relocation timeline as researchers flee agency USDA office move may have broken law, watchdog says Senate Democrats see Warren, Sanders proposals as unfeasible MORE (Mich.), Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownThe Hill's Campaign Report: Battle for Senate begins to take shape Dayton Democrat launches challenge to longtime GOP rep Dayton mayor: Trump visit after shooting was 'difficult on the community' MORE (Ohio), Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyAppropriators warn White House against clawing back foreign aid House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions Graham moves controversial asylum bill through panel; Democrats charge he's broken the rules MORE (Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.), Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care: Planned Parenthood to leave federal family planning program absent court action | Democrats demand Trump withdraw rule on transgender health | Cummings, Sanders investigate three drug companies for 'obstructing' probe Democrats demand Trump officials withdraw rule on transgender health The Hill's Morning Report - Progressives, centrists clash in lively Democratic debate MORE (Wash.), and Tammy BaldwinTammy Suzanne BaldwinTrade wars and the over-valued dollar Overnight Health Care: Senate panel advances drug pricing bill amid GOP blowback | House panel grills Juul executives | Trump gives boost to state drug import plans | Officials say new migrant kids' shelter to remain open but empty Senators vow to bring transparency to drug pricing 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 senators call for Barr to release full results of Epstein investigation Trump health official: Controversial drug pricing move is 'top priority' Environmental advocates should take another look at biofuels 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.