Farm Bailout Paid to Brazilian Meat Processor Angers Lawmakers

Lawmakers want to know why a Brazilian-owned company got payments from a program aimed to help American farmers weather President Trump’s trade war.


By Maggie Haberman and Alan Rappeport, The New York Times (NYT)  

Feb. 7, 2020


WASHINGTON — The Trump administration, confident that the Chinese government will follow through on its agreement to buy more American agriculture, plans to shutter its bailout program for farmers hurt by tariffs.


But allegations of unfairness and other criticisms continue to dog the $28 billion initiative, which President Trump created to ease the economic hardship on rural America, which constitutes a large portion of his political base.


What was meant to be a financial lifeline for struggling farmers has been widely derided by critics as a corporate bailout for big agriculture companies and those who live in metropolitan areas but own farms in rural America. The program has also been attacked for providing financial support to American subsidiaries of foreign agriculture companies that operate in the United States.


For months, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has been pressing the Trump administration to explain payments to a Brazilian-owned company with a troubled past.


About $67 million in bailout funds have gone to JBS USA, the subsidiary of JBS S.A., a Brazilian company that is the world’s biggest meat-processing firm.


Lawmakers have argued that a company with foreign-held ownership should be getting more scrutiny, particularly one that encountered legal troubles three years ago. In 2017, two of JBS S.A.’s former top executives, brothers Wesley and Joesley Batista, pleaded guilty to corruption charges in Brazil.


The Batista family, through a holding company, remains the largest shareholder of JBS S.A.


Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, and Senator Bob Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, as well as Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, have asked Sonny Perdue, the agriculture secretary, to investigate JBS S.A.


“I have not had a reply from the secretary,” Ms. DeLauro said, adding that the money “was supposed to be going to struggling farmers.”


A spokesman for JBS USA, Cameron Bruett, described the firm as “an important American company, providing more than 60,000 U.S.-based jobs” and as a key part of the agricultural community. He added, “JBS USA has not been accused of any wrongdoing. The company has its own management team that leads all operations and is focused on running a strong and effective business.”


Since the Batista brothers’ plea agreement, Mr. Bruett asserted, they have had no direct involvement with the company, and he said that JBS has cooperated with American authorities for inquiries into what happened in Brazil.


Shortly after the guilty pleas in Brazil, JBS USA appointed an independent advisory board, which included John A. Boehner, the former House speaker. Mr. Boehner’s law firm, Squire Patton Boggs, is listed in federal forms as a lobbyist for JBS, although an aide to Mr. Boehner said he is not among those at the firm who represent JBS...