By Bill Tomson
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, President Trump’s choice to be the next U.S. ambassador to China, said today that if confirmed he will make it a priority to get China to lift its ban on U.S. beef and reform its biotechnology approval process.
Branstad spoke at USDA’s annual Agricultural Outlook Forum before a scheduled meeting at the Chinese embassy in Washington,
“We soon hope to reopen the market for American beef,” Branstad said. “I want to serve it at the (U.S.) embassy and I certainly want to do what I can to convince the Chinese leadership to do that sooner than later.”
It was in September last year that China announced it was going to lift its 14-year-old ban on U.S. beef, but there have been no signs since then that the country was actually following through with that promise.
China was just one of many countries that banned U.S. beef in 2003 after theU.S. discovered its first case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Since then most countries have lifted those bans, and in 2013 the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) announced that it was placing the U.S. into the “negligible,” or lowest risk category, for BSE, commonly known as mad cow disease.. Previously the U.S. fell into the higher “controlled” risk category.
“Mad cow disease is long since gone in this country,” Branstad said. “There’s no reason why the Chinese should continue to restrict American beef. That’s one of the things high on my priority list.”
Another thing high on his priority list is persuading China to reform its biotechnology approval process. The Obama administration tried for years to get China to begin the approval process of new seed traits at the same time as regulators in the U.S. or other countries begin. But little progress has been made.
China, to the growing frustration of U.S. farm groups and biotech seed companies, continues to refuse to begin its approval process until new traits have already been approved in another country first. That can add years to the time that it takes for seed companies to get their products on the market.
Furthermore, Branstad said another priority would be to persuade the Chinese to remove stiff import duties on U.S. distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS).
It was just last month that China’s Commerce Ministry slapped new duties and taxes on DDGS that total roughly 90 percent of the price of the commodity, a byproduct of ethanol production and a popular livestock feed ingredient.
U.S. Grains Council President Tom Sleight says the barriers are high enough to virtually halt U.S. exports to China.
China bought 6.3 million tons of DDGS in 2015, valued at about $1.6 billion, according to U.S. Grains Council officials. That was up from 4.3 million tons, valued at $1.25 billion, in 2014.
Branstad told Agri-Pulse that he expects to succeed where others have failed in China because of his strong personal relationships with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other high-ranking officials.
“I have the advantage of being an old friend of President Xi,” he said. “His very first trip to America was to Iowa. He led a … corn processing delegation that came to Iowa in 1985.”
The two have stayed in contact since then, Branstad said. “We have a longstanding personal relationship and that’s really important in their culture. I think that’s why President Trump chose me.”
Branstad also stressed today that the U.S. and China are already major trading partners and he hopes to expand that relationship.