DES MOINES | Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey said Wednesday having Terry Branstad as U.S. ambassador to China has opened new doors and new opportunities for commodity groups hoping to expand access to one of the world’s largest consumer markets.
“It’s just a game changer,” said Reynolds, who is conducting her sixth official visit to China by leading a 35-member all-Iowa agriculture trade mission that included several events with Branstad — Iowa’s former governor — and a “fun and relaxed” meeting with her former boss and his family at the ambassador’s residence.
With Branstad as President Donald Trump’s choice to facilitate trade and political policies with China, Northey said traveling representatives from Iowa’s corn, soybean, pork, beef, egg, poultry, dairy and turkey industries were able to have “some very high-level conversations” with government officials and industry partners in Shanghai, Xian and Beijing.
“It has made a huge difference in the way that we were received and I think it will make a difference in how many Chinese businesses are interested in traveling to Iowa and creating partnerships with Iowa companies,” Northey said during a conference call with Iowa reporters that was placed from Beijing at 10 p.m. local time.
“There has been no one that we met with that doesn’t know that the former governor of Iowa is the ambassador to China. Many of them knew him personally before this. This has done nothing but raise the profile of Iowa,” he said.
One Chinese official told them Iowa “is almost a geographic indicator — a branded location” his country knows about due to the friendship started in 1985 between Branstad and now-Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“We have every opportunity to fully participate because of that Iowa connection,” said Northey. He said the mission also focused on ethanol, biofuels, education and other opportunities to build partnerships.
With China recently lifting its ban on U.S. beef after more than 13 years, Iowa farm groups expressed hope for bringing down barriers and expanding food exports to a developed market of 1.4 billion people.
U.S. beef was served as several receptions and samples were passed out at a major Chinese retailer during the mission, according to Iowa officials.
“We cannot underestimate the magnitude of this market here,” said Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.
China is in the process of improving income, diets and the environment for its people, who consume about 130 pounds of protein meat per capita annually, compared with the U.S. average of 187 pounds. Hypothetically, Hill said, if 300 million of the Asian country’s people improve their yearly incomes, move into the middle class and increase their protein consumption by 50 pounds a year, that growth would be roughly equal to feeding the U.S. population and represent a huge opportunity for American ag producers.
“This is just an incredible opportunity to partner and Iowa is the right place at the right time to help fill this need,” he told reporters.
Northey said the all-Iowa nature of the delegation showed unity to the Chinese government and business leaders and enabled them to break up into smaller groups that covered more topics and meetings than could have been accomplished individually.
“We talked about big issues and small issues,” he said. “It has been a great mission.”
The trip, funded by the participating agricultural organizations, began July 19 and was to end Friday.