Maintaining strong agricultural trade relations with China is a priority for the Iowa Soybean Association — thus the reason the group is headed there March 16-25.
Led by ISA President Bill Shipley of Nodaway and President-elect Lindsay Greiner of Keota, the delegation will meet with U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad at the U.S. Embassy in China and key Chinese officials representing soybean processors and feed companies.
“China consumes 60 percent of global soybean production and Iowa farmers are a key supplier,” Shipley said. “With U.S. commodity prices sliding and other countries ramping up production, this is precisely the wrong time for the U.S. to retreat as a trusted source of high-quality soybeans.”
While preparations for the visit began last year, the timing of this month’s discussions is opportune.
Farmers are increasingly concerned about trade disruptions between the United States and China caused by steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The White House is also said to be considering tariffs on imports of Chinese technology and telecommunications resulting from a “Section 301” intellectual property investigation.
Last year, Iowa’s nearly 42,000 soybean farmers produced 562 million bushels of the oilseed. The crop is valued at more than $5 billion. Nearly one of every four rows of soybeans grown in Iowa is destined for China. Nationally, U.S. soybean exports to China totaled 1.3 billion bushels in 2017 valued at $12.4 billion.
“China, which wasn’t even in the market for soybeans 16 years ago, is now our largest customer, purchasing more soybeans than all others combined,” Shipley added. “Iowa soybean farmers, with the support of their association and investment of the soybean checkoff, have developed strong relationships with Chinese soybean buyers, industry representatives and the Chinese government.
“We’re committed to maintaining these relationships while navigating these unsettled times,” he added. “Our time in China will offer the opportunity to share this important message personally.”
Imposing tariffs may help U.S. steel workers and steel industry, but the potential damage to the overall economy might be greater, said ISA Chief Executive Officer Kirk Leeds, a delegation participant.
“Unfortunately, given the importance of exports to U.S. farmers and the overall farm economy, agriculture trade is often the first casualty in any trade war or retaliation,” he said.
The ISA continues to work with Iowa’s Congressional delegation in communicating concerns about the way tariffs are being proposed and their potential impact on soybean farmers and U.S. agriculture.
“It’s clear underlying challenges remain in overall trade relations between China and the U.S., and for that matter between trading partners around the world,” Leeds added. “The best strategy for maintaining strong trade relations between China and the U.S. is to make sure that both sides continue to fully engage in conversation, negotiations and open dialogue. That’s what we’ll do during our time in China.”
Shipley said Iowa farmers are optimistic that U.S. and Chinese government officials will expand, not restrict, trade.