It would be difficult from a geographical standpoint to imagine Wyoming would have anything to do with Taiwan. Wyoming is a landlocked state in the United States Great Plains nearly 7,000 miles away from Taiwan. Yet, despite glaring geographical barriers, Taiwan and Wyoming are forging an unlikely friendship that curiously begins with Wyoming beef.
It all started in 2013 when then Wyoming Governor Matt Mead paid a visit to Taiwan as part of his tour of the Asia-Pacific to boost interest in Wyoming produce and tourism. Governor Mead then visited Taiwan again, this time his sole destination, at the end of his term in 2017. During an interview for Wyoming Livestock Roundup after the trip, Wyoming Stock Growers Association Executive Vice President Jim Magagna, who accompanied Mead, identified Taiwan as “one of the most important countries in Southeast Asia” for Wyoming beef. This assessment was followed by a realization Wyoming beef was falling behind in popularity compared to other states such as Idaho in Taiwan. This prompted Mead to take action, first by proposing a Wyoming trade representative office in Taiwan to facilitate the market entrance of Wyoming produce, especially beef.
Indeed, almost exactly one year after Mead’s visit, Wyoming opened its first foreign trade office in nearly 30 years in the form of the Wyoming Asia-Pacific Trade Office in Taipei. This trade office came to fruition thanks in part to the effort of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and the Wyoming Business Council. Furthermore, the centerpiece of the inaugural ceremony involved serving the state’s high-quality beef to nearly 80 officials from both Taiwan and Wyoming. These examples demonstrate the prominent position beef plays in Taiwan-Wyoming relations.
Yet, the opening of the Wyoming Asia-Pacific Trade Office was just the beginning of the increasingly cordial relationship between Wyoming and Taiwan. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Taiwan donated 50,000 medical masks to Wyoming. This gesture of generosity was reciprocated by Wyoming with the near unanimous passage, in early 2021, of a resolution reaffirming Wyoming’s support and continued friendship with Taiwan.
In the end, it is safe to say Wyoming beef has been a conduit deepening the Taiwan-Wyoming relationship. However, it would be wrong to say that beef diplomacy stops at Wyoming and Idaho. Taiwan also has beef to thank for its improving relations with Montana and New Mexico. In fact, it was Taiwan’s easing of import restrictions on beef in 2020 that partly relieved New Mexico’s vital cattle industry which suffered greatly from the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is no doubt beef has become a diplomatic tool through which Taiwan has been able to cultivate better relations with many states in the United States Great Plains.
Tri Vo is a participant of the Young Professional Program of the East-West Center. He recently graduated from the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University.