Marathon County, Wisconsin is the powerhouse of Ginseng production in the United States. Producing over 90% of the country’s boutique Ginseng root, Wisconsin farmers have gradually become key exporters to Asia, specifically China. China is the largest producer and consumer of the root in the world, and Chinese demand for Wisconsin Ginseng is high. The Chinese predominantly consume Ginseng in tea-form due to its purported health benefits, such as its ability to create a cooling effect on the body and boost energy levels.
The climate and fertile ground in Wisconsin provides the ideal environment for the harvesting of the Ginseng root. The Ginseng Board of Wisconsin is the premier body representing Ginseng farmers in the region and aids in the advertising and promotion of American Ginseng around the world. The Board also operates Chinese and Taiwan-specific websites to facilitate trade and exports. 2016 estimates by the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin indicated that exports of Ginseng totaled roughly $20 million with over 40% of the product being shipped directly to China.
Prince of Peace is the preeminent Ginseng brand in the United States and sells the root predominantly in teas to both US customers and the large Chinese market. Recently, however, there has been a decline of the Chinese consumption. In 2016, Ginseng tariffs were at 7.5% yet are now approaching 50% on the Wisconsin product. Furthermore, in 2015 Wisconsin trade to China totaled roughly $2.2 billion, but has been steadily declining since, such as an approximate 9% decrease between 2015 and 2016 alone.
China is an important trade partner for Wisconsin, being its third largest export market making up nearly 7% of all exports. Wisconsin exports to China support US jobs both directly and indirectly, such as the creation of 14,100 American jobs in 2016. Despite this, Wisconsin-China exports have fallen by over 5% from 2017 to 2018.
Wisconsin Ginseng is a multi-million dollar industry based on a traditionally-Chinese product that has generated widespread popularity in the United States. A recent deal with Costco will see this Chinese product spread around various US states and the phase one trade deal will, hopefully for Marathon County, reinvigorate Ginseng exports to China.
Joshua Martelli is a participant of the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a second year undergraduate student at the University of Western Australia studying a Bachelor of Arts, double-majoring in Political Science, International Relations and Asian Studies.