Renewable Farming

Agricultural ties forged friendship leading to Branstad’s possible role as ambassador to China

Iowa governor Terry Branstad was in effect “given the nod by China” today as president-elect Trump’s choice as ambassador to China. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters “We welcome him to play a greater role in advancing the development of China-U.S. relations.”

Dec. 7, 2016 — Wednesday’s comment by Lu Kang followed a report late Tuesday that Branstad and his wife had met with Donald Trump in New York to discuss the ambassador’s appointment. On Wednesday morning, Trump’s transition team virtually confirmed the appointment, as reported by Brietbart.

Branstad’s personal interest in China, and long acquaintance with Chinese president Xi jinping, reportedly led to Trump’s invitation for Branstad and his wife, Chris, to visit Trump in New York Tuesday. Bloomberg reported extensively on the visit, which reporters based on three sources “familiar with the matter.”

Update Dec. 8: The Wall Street Journal offers a background story on long-standing ties between Iowa and China. And the website China Daily inserted a mention of Branstad’s appointment — as if parenthetically, in a story with another headline. The Branstad comments in the story called him a “friend of China.”

At a Nov. 8 Trump rally in Sioux City, Trump had singled out Branstad and told the crowd that Branstad “would be our prime candidate to take care of China.”

Xi and Branstad meet on trade mission (Des Moines Register photo)

The personal connection between Branstad and Xi dates back to at least 1985, when Xi visited Iowa as an ag official from Hebai province. Xi has extended experience in Chinese agriculture. He’s one of the strongest political forces behind China’s official intentions to become a global leader in biotechnology, which is fiercely opposed by grassroots activists across China.

In 2012, Branstad hosted Xi in Des Moines during a trade mission. And in November 2016, just after the presidential election, Branstad led a trade mission to China.

China is one of the largest importers of U.S. soybeans. Iowa alone sells $1.4 billion of ag products to China.

A Bloomberg video report Wednesday morning, Dec. 7 affirmed that China’s response to Branstad as a “friend of China” is a strong Chinese affirmation of Trump’s apparent choice. 

Branstad’s appointment arrives in a context of failed negotiations in which the U.S. accuses China of $100 billion of hidden subsidies for ag production that’s competitive with potential imports. Pro Farmer has that report.

China’s currency, the yuan, has depreciated about 6% against the dollar during 2016, making imports from the U.S. correspondingly more expensive to food and feed buyers in China. 

China purchases about 65% of total U.S. soybean exports (chart below).