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story.lead_photo.caption In this March 15, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump talks with reporters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump acknowledged Monday that farmers could be adversely affected by the escalating tariff dispute with China but promised to make it up to them, saying they "will be better off than they ever were."

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting, Trump addressed the Chinese threat to slap tariffs on soybeans and other agriculture staples grown in rural America, a move that could hit Midwestern farmers, many of whom are strong supporters of the president.

"If during the course of the negotiation they want to hit the farmers because they think that hits me. I wouldn't say that's nice, but I tell you our farmers are great patriots," Trump said. "They understand that they're doing this for the country. We'll make it up to them. In the end they're going to be much stronger than they are right now."

China is threatening the tariffs in response to Trump moving to enact protectionist measures as punishment for Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property. The U.S. bought more than $500 billion in goods from China last year and now is planning or considering penalties on some $150 billion of those imports.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump was working with his team "to determine how best to respond to China's attack on American farmers" and had asked the Agriculture Department to provide him with a plan to protect U.S. farmers.

As the economic saber-rattling shakes global markets, Trump said Monday he had a good relationship with China and with President Xi Jinping but repeated his claim that China has been "taking advantage of the United States for many years." He added that he doesn't blame China, but American leaders for creating a "lopsided" set of trade rules.

Earlier in the day, Trump tweeted about the "STUPID TRADE" with China, saying that when a Chinese-made vehicle is sent to the U.S., the tariff is only 2.5 percent, while American cars exported to China are slapped with a 25 percent tariff.

China charges total duties of 25 percent on most imported cars — a 10 percent customs tariff plus a 15 percent auto tax. Since December 2016, Beijing also has charged an additional 10 percent on "super-luxury" vehicles priced above $200,000.

The president made fixing the trade imbalance with China a centerpiece of his presidential campaign, where he frequently used incendiary language to describe how Beijing would "rape" the U.S. economically. But even as Trump cozied up to Xi and pressed China for help with derailing North Korea's nuclear ambitions, he has ratcheted up the economic pressure and threatened tariffs, a move opposed by many fellow Republicans.

The Trump administration has said it is taking action as a crackdown on China's theft of U.S. intellectual property. The U.S. bought more than $500 billion in goods from China last year and now is planning or considering penalties on some $150 billion of those imports. The U.S. sold about $130 billion in goods to China in 2017 and faces a potentially devastating hit to its market there if China responds in kind.

China has pledged to "counterattack with great strength" if Trump decides to follow through on his latest threat to impose tariffs on an additional $100 billion in Chinese goods — after an earlier announcement that targeted $50 billion. Beijing also declared that the current rhetoric made negotiations impossible, even as the White House suggested that the tariff talk was a way to spur China to the bargaining table.

The new White House economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said Sunday that a "coalition of the willing" — including Canada, much of Europe and Australia — was being formed to pressure China and that the U.S. would demand that the World Trade Organization, an arbiter of trade disputes, be stricter on Beijing. And he said that although the U.S. hoped to avoid taking action, Trump "was not bluffing."

"This is a problem caused by China, not a problem caused by President Trump," Kudlow said on Fox News Sunday.

But he also downplayed the tariff threat as "part of the process," suggesting on CNN that the effect would be "benign" and said he was hopeful that China would enter negotiations. Kudlow, who started his job a week ago after his predecessor, Gary Cohn, quit over the tariff plan, brushed aside the possibility of economic repercussions.

"I don't think there's any trade war in sight," Kudlow told Fox.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said on CBS' Face the Nation that he didn't expect the tariffs to have a "meaningful impact on the economy" even as he left the door open for disruption. He allowed that there "could be" a trade war but said he didn't anticipate one.

Trump's latest proposal intensified what was already shaping up to be the biggest trade battle in more than a half century.

Trump told advisers last week that he was unhappy with China's decision to tax $50 billion in American products, including soybeans and small aircraft, in response to a U.S. move to impose tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods. Rather than waiting weeks for the U.S. tariffs to be implemented, Trump backed a plan by Robert Lighthizer, his trade representative, to seek the enhanced tariffs.

Further escalation could be in the offing. The U.S. Treasury Department is working on plans to restrict Chinese technology investments in the U.S. And there is talk that the U.S. could also put limits on visas for Chinese who want to visit or study in this country.

Read Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.

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    April 9, 2018 at 12:08 p.m.

    Ask countless contractors and tradespeople in NYC and around the globe about Trump's record of keeping his word.

  • RBear
    April 9, 2018 at 12:11 p.m.

    How can he make it better other than government intervention in markets which is against the Republican ideology? In fact, doing so might violate a few laws. This president has NO clue as to how our nation works and just makes this stuff up as he goes. We are a nation of laws and he just thinks he can make up his own laws to suit his needs. No wonder he idolizes Putin and Erdogan.

  • Foghorn
    April 9, 2018 at 1:20 p.m.

    Many of those who voted for Trump based on his tough talk and bold bloviations are now being bitten in the @ss by that same junkyard dog they brought home. Like coal miners and steel workers - and now farmers. But in order to MAGA he expects them to suck it up like true patriots. That tax cut is looking a little lean when compared with going belly up due to tariffs, I’m guessing.

  • hah406
    April 9, 2018 at 1:29 p.m.

    The farmers will go bankrupt in the near term, but he will "make it up" to them later, the same way he paid back all his creditors in his multiple bankruptcy cases? Trump does not have the mental capacity to learn anything about economics, law, the constitution, the military, or geopolitics. Completely ignorant.

  • TimberTopper
    April 9, 2018 at 1:51 p.m.

    Farmers, it won't be wise for any of you to hold your breathe waiting for the make-up to come your way. This POTUS has a record on telling a lie, on a regular basis.

    April 9, 2018 at 2:29 p.m.

    Hopefully People are finally beginning to realize how badly they were suckered in the Last Presidential Election. Trumpet Man is Really starting to hit the Middle Class where it hurts, Right in the Pocket Book. I really Hope that People are finally Realizing that Jesus does not Give a Damx Who is in the White House. Or is Trumpet Man the Mountain that Got Moved????

  • 23cal
    April 9, 2018 at 3:22 p.m.

    I'm positive he will make it up to the farmers......right after he releases his tax returns,right after Mexico pays for his wall, and right after he trots out his new better and cheaper healthcare.

  • BoudinMan
    April 9, 2018 at 5:22 p.m.

    Hey, all you trump supporters, you been scammed!

    April 9, 2018 at 5:27 p.m.

    The silence deafens.

  • thebulletpoint
    April 9, 2018 at 8:12 p.m.

    Not looking good for the farmers. We are gonna be left with Trump’s Dump on America. It’s better than Obamasauce, but still not my flavor of a president. We suck at electing.