Current U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told the audience at the annual meeting of the Iowa Farm Bureau Wednesday morning it would be good news if Iowa Governor Terry Branstad is tapped as ambassador to China. Vilsack, a Democrat and former governor of Iowa, called Branstad, a Republican, a tireless advocate for trade and a proud advocate for U.S. agriculture. He said Branstad has the experience and knowledge to play a key role in advancing U.S.-China relations.
An hour later, U.S. president-elect Donald Trump announced he was indeed nominating Branstad to serve as ambassador to China. In a statement, Trump praised Branstad’s long experience and close relationship with Chinese president Xi Jinping. “Terry Branstad successfully developed close trade ties with China while serving as governor of Iowa,” Trump said. “That experience will serve him well as he represents America’s interests and further develops a mutually beneficial relationship with China’s leadership.”
Looking forward to strengthening U.S.-China relations
Branstad issued a statement Wednesday saying he accepted the nomination after consulting with family. “I’ve known President Xi Jinping for many years and consider him an old friend,” Branstad said. “I look forward to building on our long friendship to cultivate and strengthen relations between our two countries and to benefit our economy.” Branstad’s appointment must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, sometime after the January 20 inauguration of Donald Trump.
Branstad met Tuesday with Trump in New York. The official announcement came 24 hours later. Choosing Branstad as the U.S.’s top diplomat to the world’s largest country was rumored for weeks after Trump was elected November 8, and Branstad said he was open to the possibility. In addition to his close ties to the president of China, Branstad has been a tireless supporter for trade and economic cooperation with China, conducting a number of trade missions to China to promote Iowa ag products.
China’s economy is second only to the United States in the world today and it is a leading buyer of U.S. ag products, particularly soybeans and pork. Iowa exports to China hit $1.2 billion last year, up 93% from 2013.
Branstad visited China last month, promoting Iowa exports
Last month, less than a week after Trump’s victory, Branstad paid his latest visit to China. It was his seventh visit during his many years as governor, as he met with China’s ag minister and officials from Iowa’s sister province, Hebei.
Branstad said Wednesday: “During our 30-year friendship, President Xi Jinping and I have developed a respect and admiration for each other, our people and cultures. The U.S. - Chinese bilateral relationship is at a critical point. Ensuring the countries with the two largest economies and two largest militaries in the world maintain a collaborative and cooperative relationship is needed more now than ever. President-elect Trump understands my unique relationship to China and has asked me to serve in a way I had not previously considered.”
Branstad, age 70, is the longest-serving governor in American history, having served four terms in office from 1983 to 1999 and another term and a half since 2011. For more information on Branstad’s experience and relationship with China, click here.
It will take determination to make trade gains with China
Vilsack said Branstad’s personal relationships with Chinese leaders will enable them to have “candid conversations that work toward common goals. Governor Branstad cares deeply about business and agriculture. He’s a promoter and that’s what ambassadors do. But it takes a lot of determination and hard work to make trade gains with China.”
China is the United States’ third-largest export market and among the fastest growing. “He’s going to have to have patience,” Vilsack said of Branstad. “Regarding agriculture and trade, we’ve been talking with our Chinese friends for quite some time about biotechnology approvals, about resuming U.S. beef exports to China and other issues that haven’t been easy. We’ve made progress but there is more work to be done.”
“Farmers understand trade because it impacts their bottom line,” Vilsack told members of the Iowa Farm Bureau. “But a lot of people don’t understand the connection between their job, their income and the fact that we are trading globally.”
Branstad heralded as good choice for ambassadorship
U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, praised Branstad as a “straight shooter with a successful track record as a chief executive. Those attributes would serve the U.S. very well if he’s confirmed for the ambassadorship. He should be easily confirmed.”
Several important businesses based in Iowa—Deere & Co., DuPont Pioneer, Principal Financial Group, Kemin Industries and others—have worked over the years to open operations in China. “They are already in the Chinese market and Terry Branstad’s ambassadorship will help them strengthen those relationships and increase trade opportunities,” said Jay Byers, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership.
Iowa Secretary of Ag Bill Northey believes Branstad’s leadership in China “will be good for Iowa and our nation. His influence as ambassador there will not only be helpful for agriculture and trade, but good for other sectors of the U.S. economy, too.”
Need to understand the significant impact of ag trade
American Soybean Association president Richard Wilkins expressed ASA’s support, citing the governor’s extensive experience working with Chinese officials. “ASA enthusiastically supports Gov. Branstad as the next U.S. ambassador to China. It’s extremely important to have voices within the incoming Trump administration that understand and value the huge impact global trade has on U.S. agriculture and specifically U.S. soybean producers. Nowhere is that relationship more significant than in China, a market that is buying nearly 60% of our soy exports, and over 25% of our production overall.”
China is also an important market for U.S. corn in all forms including the second-largest purchaser of U.S. ethanol this past marketing year. It’s an important buyer of U.S. distillers’ grains. The China/Hong Kong market is the third largest customer for both U.S. pork and beef exports. “This nomination comes when there are important issues facing our trading relationship with China,” says Kurt Hora, Iowa Corn Growers Association president. “We need a strong diplomat and experienced negotiator in this appointment. We look forward to Governor Branstad moving into this new role.”