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Congressman Greg Gianforte listens to a presentation

Congressman Greg Gianforte, R-Montana.

Rep. Greg Gianforte supports a federal $12 billion aid package to farmers hurt by ongoing trade disputes, but would not say how long that assistance should continue.

“We need open access to foreign markets to our agriculture, and I’ll continue to advocate for that,” Montana’s Republican House member said during an interview at the Missoulian on Monday. “I’ll continue to push the administration to get those negotiations brought to a close. The right solution is to get open access to markets, which we have not had for decades.”

Adding he would “always support Montana farmers,” Gianforte repeatedly declined to answer if he’d extend the bailout beyond its current allocation. Instead, he said he supported President Donald Trump’s international trade agenda. Gianforte highlighted recent changes to trade agreements with Canada and Mexico that improved prospects for U.S. grain and cattle exports.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the $12 billion aid package in late July, saying it would offset an expected $11 billion loss in Chinese trade due to tariff imposition. The money will go to farmers raising soybeans, wheat, corn and cotton. Payments may also be available to pork and dairy producers. And some of the money will buy up commodity supplies of specialty crops, fruits and nuts for school lunch programs and food banks.

Perdue also demurred when asked how long the bailout might continue. In a speech reported by Agriculture.com, he said the 2018 aid package was to help farmers who didn’t know the trade impasse was coming when they planted this year’s crops.

“Farmers are smart,” Perdue was quoted as saying. “They will make their planting decisions for 2019 based on where the markets look like they are there, and therefore, we don’t expect as much trade disruption damage in the future.”

Montana Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, and Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican, have both applied for the assistance. Individual payments are capped at $125,000, although specific payments are based on crop and acreage size. Tester told the Washington Post he was unable to sell half of his 2017 wheat crop because of lack of access to markets.

Retaliatory tariffs on U.S. and Chinese goods have affected numerous industries since negotiations between the two nations soured last summer. Gianforte said the United States’ international trading partners appeared to be falling into line with Trump’s preference for nation-to-nation deals rather than multinational pacts like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He added that continued pressure on China regarding that country’s abuse of intellectual property secrets could pay huge dividends.

“That issue alone could add a couple percentage points to the gross domestic product,” Gianforte said. “That’s $6 trillion to $7 trillion over a 10-year period.”

Many in the agriculture industry aren’t as hopeful. American Soybean Association Vice President Davie Stephens said soybean producers had spent more than 40 years and invested millions of dollars building a trade relationship with China. That nation alone provided a $14 billion market for U.S. beans in 2017.

“With the situation worsening, these decisions could become long-term policies,” Stephens told Soygrowers.com, which opposes Trump’s tariffs. “Even if the Administration achieves its goal of changing China’s policies on forced technology transfer and intellectual property theft, which could end the tariff war, this trend could be irreversible. U.S. soybean farmers may become the supplier of last resort to what has been, by far, our most important foreign market.”

Gianforte also said the Trump tax cuts were improving the national economy, which would help the agriculture community. He noted that federal tax revenues are up almost $100 billion this year, because the tax cuts had helped double GDP growth.

However, the Bipartisan Policy Center found that while individual income tax revenue grew by $96 billion in fiscal 2018, that was mostly offset by a reduction in corporate tax income of $92 billion. The federal deficit would have been $826 billion for fiscal 2018, but $44 billion more got shifted to fiscal 2019 because September’s last payment came on a weekend.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.