Branstad Raises Ag Trade in Hearing to Become Ambassador to China

The U.S. has made progress opening up the Chinese market for agricultural products like soybeans, but work still needs to be done among other agricultural goods, Terry Branstad, President Trump's nominee for U.S. ambassador to China, said at his confirmation hearing.

At his May 2 hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Branstad said he hopes he can give the U.S. beef, poultry and dairy industries more access to the growing Chinese market.

And those hopes center on his personal relationship with one man: Chinese President Xi Jinping.

LEFT: Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad; RIGHT: Chinese President Xi Jinping

Branstad has known Xi for more than three decades, a relationship that dates back to a visit by a young Xi to Iowa in 1985, when the 31-year-old budding bureaucrat was an official in China's Heibi province, according to a January piece in The Des Moines Register.

Branstad—who has served two lengthy stints as Iowa's governor—was in his first term at the time, and the two traveled the state together.

Xi's trip to the U.S. was part of an agricultural delegation. It was spring planting time in Iowa, and the two visited a farm owned by the then-president of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, Branstad recalled at his hearing.

Branstad said he hopes that relationship, cemented decades ago, will help him address a range of key trade and diplomatic issues ranging from North Korea, to protecting U.S. intellectual property, to boosting U.S. farm exports to China.

“This is an area, especially when it comes to agriculture products, that I've had a lot of experience in, and I hope that because Xi Jinping has some experience in that background too, that it's an area that maybe we can make some connection,” he said.

U.S. agricultural exports to China totaled $21.4 billion in 2016, with soybeans, coarse grains and hides being the top products, according to USDA data. The bulk of that trade is in soybeans, which total $14.2 billion. Nearly half of all soybeans grown in the U.S. are exported to China, Branstad said at the hearing.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) brought up U.S. poultry exports and a World Trade Organization complaint against China over the country's antidumping duties, which he said is keeping U.S. chicken from being competitive in China.

“We have not been able to sustainably access one of the most promising markets in the world, which is China,” Coons said.

Branstad said he’d work reduce barriers for U.S. chicken farmers.

“I agree with you wholeheartedly that we need to have a fair and open market for these products,” Branstad said.