DES MOINES — Two top state officials said Monday they’re hoping escalating tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program and missile tests won’t undo the progress a trade delegation made during a just-completed mission to foster more markets for Iowa agricultural commodities.
“It’s an unstable situation,” said Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, who joined Gov. Kim Reynolds as part of a 35-member all-Iowa agriculture trade mission that spent 10 days traveling to Shanghai, Xian and Beijing.
“There’s no way to know how all this will play out,” Northey added. “We’re hoping the North Korean tensions can get worked out and trade continues to improve.”
The traveling Iowans were returning to the state last week when Pentagon officials confirmed North Korea had launched another long-range intercontinental ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan on Friday — the second major test of the Asian nation’s nuclear capacity this year.
In response, U.S. officials flew two B-1B bombers over the Korean Peninsula in a joint maneuver with Japanese and South Korean jets, and President Donald Trump threatened trade action against China, saying he was “very disappointed” it had failed to pressure North Korea to halt the launches.
Reynolds said the North Korean tensions came up during a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad, Iowa’s former governor who stepped down in May to take the post in the Trump administration. She said he is working to find a U.S.-Chinese balance as the situation unfolds.
“It’s something that we constantly have to be aware of,” Reynolds said. “They are walking a fine line in China. They are sending troops to the border. They don’t want North Korea to have nuclear capability, either, so they’re monitoring that, as well as balancing democracy with a unified Korea” in the event the North Korean regime topples.
Reynolds called the trade mission “an excellent trip” and a “good start” in expanding shipments of Iowa agricultural products to China, including the resumption of U.S. beef imports and a Chinese decision to allow four new varieties of genetically modified corn and soybeans into the country, with prospects for more.
“I’m very optimistic about the opportunity moving forward,” she said.
Northey said an advantage for Iowa is the positive U.S. ag trade balance within an overall trade imbalance with China. The corn, soybean, pork, beef, egg, poultry, dairy and turkey industries sent representatives to China for “high-level conversations” with government officials and industry partners, facilitated in part by Branstad.
“I think everybody values the trade. The Chineses value their trade with the U.S. and recognize they need to improve that imbalance. So I’m hopeful that we can continue to improve our agricultural trade, with the same token there definitely are some issues with North Korea that need to be addressed,” said Northey.
“I’m sure there are lots of conversations going about — both open and quiet — and it’s hard to know exactly how it’s all going to play out. The challenge is getting everyone’s attention and I’m sure that’s what the president is trying to do,” he added.