From December 6-16th on her first official foreign trade mission, Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch headed a bipartisan delegation that traveled across China to promote Wisconsin’s manufactured goods and agricultural products. This was not a hard sell, as over the past 15 years Wisconsin has sold over $1.66 billion worth of exports to China. A surprising but important component of those exports is ginseng, a root known for its health benefits. Wisconsin is the largest producer of ginseng in the United States, exporting over 95% of US-grown ginseng to the global market. Last year, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker signed a trade deal with China that would see $200 million worth of Wisconsin ginseng exported to China over a 10 year period. This deal originated from a partnership that began in 2009 between the Ginseng Board of Wisconsin and Chinese medicine company Tong Ren Tang Health Pharmaceutical (TRT), after TRT wanted access to Wisconsin’s “gold standard” ginseng.
Ginseng is not the only Wisconsin product that would benefit from increased trade ties between Wisconsin and China. Lt. Governor Kleefisch also hoped to increase interest in China for Wisconsin’s cranberries. In August, Wisconsin cranberry farmers hosted a Chinese delegation interested in the health benefits of cranberries, especially their high antioxidant count and ability to relieve urinary tract infections. In 2013, China imported over 2.8 million pounds of US-grown cranberries. Similar to ginseng exports, Wisconsin is also the top US exporter of processed cranberries. The total value of agricultural products that Wisconsin exported to China between January and November 2014 was $55 million, a 77% increase from the year before.
Agricultural exports are just one aspect of the Wisconsin-China relationship. Education is also an important component. In November, the University of Wisconsin-Superior signed an agreement with China’s Beijing Wuzi University to establish an exchange program. Beginning next fall, the program will focus on transportation, such as the different types of trains that are used for passenger and goods transport in each country. In June, the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-M) partnered with Nestle to establish a Dairy Farming Institute in Heilongjiang province, China, to promote better dairy practices in China through exchanges of UW-M professors and dairy experts. Wisconsin and Heilongjiang province have had a sister-state partnership since 1982. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and several local elementary and high schools are working to expand their ties with Ningbo, China, with whom Milwaukee established a friendly cooperative relationship in 2006. According to the recent 2014 Open Doors Report, Wisconsin’s welcoming attitude towards Chinese students has not gone unnoticed, as 36% of its total foreign student population comes from China.
Sarah Batiuk is the Event Coordinator and a Program Assistant at the East-West Center in Washington.