President-elect Trump intends to nominate Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who served as an agriculture policy advisor during the President-elect’s campaign, for ambassador to China. During his regular press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kangcommented on the reports of Governor Branstad’s appointment, describing the governor as “an old friend of the Chinese people” and welcoming “greater contribution to the development of China-US relations” by him or whomever ultimately assumes the post.
Iowa has strong ties to China, as does Governor Branstad, who first met President Xi in 1985 when he was a visiting party official on a sister city exchange. China and Japan are both important trade partners for the state, representing Iowa’s third and fourth largest export markets, respectively. In 2015, Iowan exports to the two nations had a combined value of over $2.3 billion.
Governor Branstad traveled to Asia on a trade mission last month, marking the governor’s fourth visit to China and third to Japan since returning to office in 2011. Delegates representing various industries, such as the Iowa Beef Council, accompanied the governor. The weeklong trip aimed to promote Iowan pork and beef products and included a memorandum signing to build a replica of an Iowa farm in China in order to showcase Iowan agricultural practices.
With the Chinese government planning to resume importing beef from the US, Iowan cattle farmers are eager to benefit from China’s $2.3 billion market. Iowan pork producers also hope to promote their products abroad, in light of low prices and high production costs domestically. In recent years, the US pork industry has grown due to rising demand in Asia, despite declining sales in other markets. Meat accounts for a significant portion of Iowa’s exports to the region; in 2015, over half of Japan’s imports from Iowa were meat products.
Proponents of trade missions and close ties with foreign countries claim these have yielded positive results in the past. In 2015, Chinese officials met with American soybean producers in Des Moines to pledge a purchase of $5.3 billion worth of US soybeans. A year earlier, the state of Iowa signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Chinese Ministry of Commerce that included a contract worth $100 million in soybean sales. Iowa’s economic development director, Debi Durham, credited the MOU to then-Vice President Xi’s 2012 visit to the state.
Stephanie Gill is a Research Intern at the East-West Center and a student at the George Washington University.