WASHINGTON -- Automobile, motorcycle and parts manufacturers would be eligible for $7.6 billion in government aid to soften the blow of escalating tariffs from President Donald Trump's trade war if the administration followed the same principle for proposing $12 billion in direct relief to farmers, according to an analysis by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Farmers represent an important part of Trump's political base, but they are suffering the consequences of actions aimed at helping other sectors of the economy. Trade tensions sparked by U.S. tariffs on steel, aluminum and thousands of Chinese goods, as well as threats to withdraw from NAFTA have contributed to double-digit declines in commodity prices and lost contracts from overseas customers seeking to avoid trading partners' retaliatory tariffs by shifting produce and meat purchases to other sources.
Republican lawmakers from farm states have said farmers want access to export markets, not government subsidies of the type employed in controlled economies.
The administration has not offered a taxpayer-funded bailout for other sectors that are also being financially hurt by the tariffs. Automakers and suppliers say higher steel and aluminum prices from tariffs are increasing production costs -- General Motors lowered its full-year financial outlook last week based on the tariffs.
The Chamber of Commerce study estimated it would cost U.S. taxpayers an additional $27 billion if the same level of aid was extended to prop up other industries exposed to retaliatory tariffs.
It arrived at the figure by calculating the ratio of the $12 billion aid proposal to the value of agricultural exports subject to retaliatory tariffs from Canada, Mexico, China and the European Union, and applying that ratio to the value of exports in other industries subject to counter tariffs.
"The administration's focus should be expanding free trade and removing these harmful tariffs, not allocating taxpayer's money to only marginally ease the suffering for some of the industries feeling the pain of the trade war," Chamber Executive Vice President Neil Bradley wrote.