U.S. Ambassador Branstad still championing for Iowa agriculture

United States Ambassador Terry Branstad received a standing ovation from Iowa's agricultural groups as he entered a meeting room at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing Tuesday.

It was the first event in a historic week of meetings during the all-Iowa agriculture trade mission: one that marks the first time all of the state’s commodity groups have traveled overseas together. The purpose of the trip is to enhance relationships and create new ones between the people of China and Iowa farmers, agricultural groups and elected leaders.

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"Welcome to the American Embassy. We are excited to have you here," Branstad told the farmers and agriculture representatives at the start of the meeting.

He said that it had been a busy three weeks in his new position with deep dives into a wide range of information relating to China. Branstad was flanked by the heads of the major departments at the Embassy including Defense, public affairs, agriculture affairs, commercial affairs and political affairs.

While his position as Ambassador offers new opportunities, Branstad won't forget the tactics that made him successful and led to being the nation’s longest-serving governor. He plans to continue the Iowa tradition of visiting every county in the state annually by visiting all of China's regions while conducting meetings with high-ranking government officials.

Governor Reynolds, the head of the all-Iowa agriculture trade mission, thanked the Ambassador for the historic meeting.

"Relationships are especially important in China, and we are fortunate that Governor Branstad welcomed a then-local agricultural official from China over 30 years ago into Iowa named Xi Jinping who is now the nation's president," Reynolds said earlier in the week during tours in Shanghai and Xi'an.

Those relationships have now been enriched and extended with Branstad's new role as U.S. Ambassador.

"It doesn't escape Ambassador Branstad of how important it is that all of the Iowa agriculture groups are here in China," Rolland Schnell, president of the Iowa Soybean Association, said. "We are here as one unit and Branstad recognizes how important that is to Iowa’s economy."

The delegation hopes to further solidify with the leaders of China that we are partners in meeting mutual goals in food security, safety and sustainability.

Department heads at the Embassy gave the agriculture leaders and farmers a snapshot of issues they are working on in China. Several issues discussed were:

  1. China's investment in the United States has now surpassed U.S. investment in China.
  2. Food consumption in China is expected to grow 25 percent from 2015 to 2020.
  3. China doesn't want to be reliant on any one country for goods, but U.S. soybeans are an exception.
  4. The U.S. has over $450 billion in investments in China.
  5. China is pursuing an initiative to increase manufacturing of its own agricultural machinery.
  6. A top priority in China is to be more environmentally friendly.

One question from the Iowa delegation pertained to trade and what some would consider political instability in Washington, D.C. Ambassador Branstad assured the group that trade between the U.S. and China would continue to grow.

"We were assured that agricultural trade is always separate from those other issues," Schnell said. "They need us, they want us, and we don’t need to worry about issues that may come up politically affecting our trade.”

That was good news for all members of the Iowa delegation; especially for those members growing and representing soybeans. China is by far the largest soybean importer in the world and is projected at 83 million metric tons, or a little more than 3 billion bushels. The U.S. markets nearly 1.1 billion bushels annually.

Branstad told the group that during meetings with President Trump last week in Washington, D.C. he presented a plan to bring top business leaders to China to discuss trade barriers and possibly sign contracts.

Soybeans, of which Iowa often leads the nation in production of, are a primary feed ingredient for pigs. China, which wasn’t in the market for soybeans 15 years ago, currently accounts for 60 percent of global soybean imports – and growing. One of every four rows of soybeans grown in Iowa is destined for China.

It is apparent that Branstad still intends to champion Iowa agriculture in his new position, telling the leaders gathered that he hopes to get more U.S. products into the embassy and China.

"I met with Tom Vilsack (currently president and CEO of the US Dairy Export Council) to talk about the vague rules concerning dairy imports into China. The milk we drink in the Embassy is from Australia," He said. "I'd like to see it come from the U.S."

Schnell was honored to have the opportunity to visit with Ambassador Branstad in his new role in China.

“It is overwhelming when you step back and think about it,” Schnell said about meeting with a U.S. Ambassador in China. “Most farmers don’t get an opportunity to do this; to be there and see all the things that are going on at the ground level, all the work that is being done to support agriculture. I don’t think the general farming public realizes what is involved and what it takes to make the excellent trade programs we have and how they translate into dollars in farmers’ pockets."