Government and industry leaders from the United States and China will gather in Des Moines on Thursday, Feb. 16 for an agricultural trade summit. Heading the Chinese delegation will be China's vice president, Xi Jinping, who is expected to become president of that nation later this year, succeeding the current president, Hu Jintao.
"This visit to our state by the Chinese delegation, and the agricultural trade discussion that will take place in Des Moines, will be a major event," says Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. The governor held a press conference February 8 at the Iowa State Capitol to provide information and answer questions about the delegation's visit to Iowa. He pointed out that in 2011 China became the biggest customer for U.S. ag products, purchasing $20 billion in U.S. agricultural exports. That's 14% of all U.S. ag exports.
Heading the Chinese delegation is China's vice president, Xi Jinping, who will likely become president soon. Branstad told reporters that the Chinese leader's trip to Iowa next week will be one of the most significant stops here by a foreign dignitary since Pope John Paul II came to Des Moines. Branstad compared the Chinese vice president's upcoming trip to Iowa to the historic visit by Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Nikita Khrushchev's 1959 visit to the state.
Chinese vice president's trip to Iowa ranks up there with visits by Pope John Paul II and Khrushchev
"I see this as very significant" and a "very positive thing for the state of Iowa," said the governor. Branstad said Xi Jinping's two-day visit to Iowa will be marked by warm hospitality, tight security and diplomatic dignity. The official visit Feb. 15-16 will include a reunion in Muscatine on February 15 with old friends the Chinese leader met during a previous trip to Iowa in 1985. There will also be a state dinner at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines that evening.
On February 16 the ag trade discussion will take place at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates headquarters in downtown Des Moines, and a possible visit to a farm in central Iowa will likely be squeezed into the schedule, before Xi departs for California later that day. Xi will be accompanied to Iowa by a Chinese delegation of about 160 to 200 people. Xi will visit the White House and President Obama on Tuesday February 14 before traveling to Iowa.
Xi Jinping has warm feelings for Iowa, Branstad explained, because of the kindness shown to Xi by Iowans during his previous trip here in 1985 as a Hebei province party official and as director of the Feed Association of Shijiazhuang Prefecture. At the February 8 press conference at the Statehouse, Branstad was joined by Consul General Yang Guoqaing of the People's Republic of China. Yang is located at the Chinese consulate office in Chicago. A half dozen reporters and photographers from Chinese news organizations attended Branstad's news briefing.
Branstad says visit to Iowa by Chinese leader is great opportunity for the state
Yang also spoke at the press conference and said he is equally optimistic about the potential for future relationships between Iowa and China. He said Xi has fond memories of his visit to Muscatine 27 years ago and the warm welcome he received.
Branstad and Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds noted that Iowa's exports to China have increased by 1,300 percent over the past decade. The governor said that's one of the reasons why corn and soybean prices are a lot higher today than they were in previous years. Branstad and Reynolds also said that Iowa manufacturers sell products to China and financial services companies like Principal Financial Group, located in Iowa, could benefit as China's growing middle class looks at the need for financial plans and retirement plans.
Branstad recalled how he first met Xi Jinping in 1985 when Xi visited Iowa as a participant in the Iowa Sister States Program as part of the Hebei Province delegation. Branstad headed a trade mission to China in September 2011 and met with the now Vice President Xi Jinping. "I was amazed at the details Xi Jinping recalled about our first meeting many years ago when he visited in Iowa," said Branstad. "He has fond memories of our state."
So, how did this first ever U.S.-China Agricultural Symposium come about?
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack traveled to China in November 2011 on a mission to strengthen bilateral trade between the two countries. He also visited other countries in the Asia-Pacific region in an effort to get those nations to buy more U.S. ag products. During his visit to China last fall, Vilsack and Chinese officials set plans to hold a U.S.-China Agricultural Symposium in early 2012 as a forum to expand their discussions into the new year and beyond.
In a statement released February 9, Vilsack said "I'm honored to welcome China's Vice President Xi Jinping and Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu to the United States, where we may continue our in-depth dialogue on issues of mutual concern. Thanks to the productivity of American farmers and ranchers, consumers in China recognize the United States is a reliable supplier of high quality food and agricultural products. Strengthening our partnership with China's growing market is integral to the strength of the U.S. economy in the decades ahead."
Opportunity to strengthen relationship with number one buyer of U.S. ag products
In 2011 China became the number one market for U.S. ag products, buying $20 billion worth of U.S. ag exports. The value of U.S. farm exports to China supported more than 160,000 American jobs last year, on and off the farm. "China and the U.S. have an opportunity and responsibility to work together to help increase the availability and use of sustainably produced food for a rapidly growing world population," said Vilsack.
The Chinese delegation will visit Washington, D.C. and California, in addition to Iowa. Vilsack said the symposium in Des Moines will focus on current and future cooperation between China and the U.S. and topics such as food security, food safety and sustainable agriculture will also be discussed. China is the world's largest importer of soybeans and cotton. China also buys U.S. pork and analysts say it could become a major corn buyer. The U.S. says China puts unfairly high tariffs on U.S. chicken and it wants China to relax beef import restrictions imposed as a safeguard against "mad cow" disease.