Ag secretary: 'When China decides they want to play fair ... we're ready to trade'

Ag secretary: 'When China decides they want to play fair ... we're ready to trade'

CHAMPAIGN — In a visit to a Champaign farm Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said ending the trade war will depend on China.

The Trump administration started the trade war by placing tariffs on Chinese steel and other products, which China retaliated to by putting tariffs on various U.S. products, including soybeans.

To help farmers, Perdue announced in July plans to provide $12 billion in aid, including $4.7 billion for payments to farmers.

"When China decides they want to play fair, play by the rules, we're ready to trade with them any day," Perdue said Wednesday.

He said another aid package won't be needed next year, regardless of whether the trade war is resolved.

"We're not planning on a trade mitigation program for next year," he said. The trade war "was put upon farmers after they'd made planting decisions for 2018, so the market will equilibrate over a period of time, and farmers will look at the markets and make their marketing and planning decisions the way they always do."

Perdue also addressed the farm bill, the giant spending package for agriculture-related programs such as crop insurance, some conservation initiatives and food aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The previous farm bill expired Sept. 30 as the U.S. House and Senate work to reconcile different versions they passed.

The House version includes more stringent work requirements for SNAP recipients. It passed, 213-211.

The Senate version does not have the same requirements. It also passed, 86-11.

"I'm confident my congressman here is going to get the farm bill done prior to the end of the year," Perdue said, referring to U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, whose office organized Wednesday's ag listening session. "People have to get over the elections and the bipartisan judo moves they're trying to do for partisan political purposes and come together."

During the event at the Reifsteck farm, which more than 200 people attended, Davis said the committee he's on to resolve the House and Senate versions of the bill is close to an agreement.

House "Speaker (Paul) Ryan was in the southern part of my district yesterday, and as we were driving together from one event to the next, I threw out an idea that was kind of a compromise on SNAP, that I can't really say here because it hasn't been proposed yet, but I don't think we're too far on getting a deal — not just the ag side, but on the SNAP side."

Davis has been visited by a number of national figures in the final weeks of his election campaign against Democratic challenger Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, including Perdue, Ryan and Vice President Mike Pence.

In a statement, Londrigan criticized Davis, and at a recent debate, she said the trade war with China would cost Illinois soybean farmers $1 billion in lost trade.

"Our small family farms are suffering, and they don't know where their markets are going to come from," she said Monday. "I would expect that a representative who is sitting in the middle of soybean country to stand up to this administration and say, 'You can't do this,' and use their congressional authority and congressional position to defend the people in their district."