WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump authorized up to $16 billion for federal programs aimed at helping farmers struggling during the United States’ trade war with China.

The Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) Charter Act, which is administered by the Farm Services Agency (FSA), will be used to implement $1.4 billion in food purchases. The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will buy surplus commodities such as some processed foods, beef, pork, lamb, poultry and milk slated for distribution by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to food banks, schools and other entities that serve low-income individuals.

About $14.5 billion will be direct payments to producers of grain and oilseeds, dairy and tree nuts and will be made in up to three tranches, explained the US Dept. of Agriculture. The first tranche will begin in late July or early August. The second and third payments will be made in November and early January if they are needed, USDA said.

An additional $100 million will be issued through the Agricultural Trade Promotion Program (ATP), which is administered by the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) of the USDA. The first round of ATP funding of $200 million, was allocated earlier this year.

Awaiting news of the assistance program were attendees at the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Spring Conference in Kansas City, Missouri. Ted McKinney, undersecretary of Trade and Agricultural Affairs at the US Dept. of Agriculture, joined the event via video conference call to provide an update on trade negotiations. He related up front he could not discuss details of the bailout before the official announcement.

“…I suspect there’s a lot of interest in the mitigation program that is upon us now,” McKinney said. “I cannot go into detail; I need to tell you that right now. We’re literally in lockdown, and one thing I learned is that you don’t want to get out ahead of the President and Secretary Perdue.”

Upon news of the plan and the additional ATP funding, which came later that afternoon, USMEF released a statement calling the ATP funding “…a valuable resource as US red meat products and other agricultural exports still face significant obstacles in key international markets.”

“ATP funding has been a valuable resource as USMEF works to defend US market share and secure new customers in both established and emerging markets,” USMEF said. “We thank the Trump administration for recognizing the impact of current trade disputes and other trade barriers on US agriculture, and we look forward to receiving more details about the latest round of ATP funding.”

McKinney went on to discuss the most recent “wins” for the US agriculture industry, such as lifting the steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada and Mexico.

“Wow! How many of you celebrated when those 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum on Canada and Mexico came down?” McKinney said.

“I cannot tell you how hard and how many ways we were vectoring in to try to communicate the harm of the damage that that was causing,” he continued. “I don’t get why they were in existence. Our steel and aluminum industries were in some ways on life support a year or so ago — that is a true statement. But I hope that some of those Industries have been nursed back to health and it seems like that might be the case.”

Another win for the industry was gaining full access to the Japanese markets for US red meat products.

“Now for sure many, many people who came before me in this role were also involved, and I know many of you in the room there were involved,” McKinney said. “But there you are — it got done and I think that provides some wonderful opportunities now and well into the future because I know, having talked to many people in Japan on my two or three visits, how much they like and appreciate the US beef. And just for those lamb producers, so you don’t think that we’re all about beef, you’ll recall that a few months ago we achieved lamb access to Japan as well.”

McKinney also discussed the status of trade negotiations with China. After 21 exchanges with Chinese negotiators, including face-to-face visits and digital conference calls. Despite the lack of additional progress, McKinney said he was “more optimistic than not” about getting a deal done.

“I’ll just say quickly that notwithstanding the frustrating time we’re having with our friends in China, I would never wish African swine fever on anyone; but it is what it is,” he said. “And so, the degree to which China and perhaps Vietnam and others want to bring in the highest quality pork, the safest pork and I would dare say in some cases high volume, we’ll take that opportunity.”

McKinney added that US negotiators continue to reach out to their counterparts in China to assure them that China will be part of any biosafety protocols that might help them mitigate the spread of ASF.

“The risk of it coming here is always present,” McKinney said. “It’s omnipresent and we just want to make sure that it stays there and then we fix the problem there.”