Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad speaks at USDA Ag Outlook Jacqui Fatka

Branstad confirmed as new China ambassador

Former Iowa governor looks to use his experience to break down barriers on U.S. beef, grain and ethanol.

On Monday, the full Senate confirmed former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad as the U.S. ambassador to China. Branstad has a relationship with China's current President Xi Jinping that spans three decades, which agricultural groups hope will serve him well in his new post.

Branstad heads to China after a crucial 100-day action plan was laid out between Xi and President Donald Trump earlier this month. At the top of that list are actionable items on regaining market access for U.S. beef no later than July 16 after a long hiatus following market closures due to bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

“As the six-term governor of a state with more than $10 billion in annual agricultural exports, Terry Branstad is an ideal person to help facilitate the U.S. beef industry’s return to the Chinese market for the first time in 13-plus years,” said Craig Uden, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn. “Ambassador Branstad has said he intends to serve American-produced beef at the U.S. embassy in Beijing (China), and America’s cattle producers look forward to working with him to make that a reality as soon as possible.”

In addition, Mike Cline, president of the Iowa Cattlemen's Assn., said, "Ambassador Branstad has been a great friend to Iowa (cattle producers) and the agriculture industry as governor of Iowa. He has shown a great commitment to the growth of beef and other agricultural exports, and we look forward to the work he will do on behalf of all Americans in his new capacity as ambassador to China."

Ron Moore, Illinois farmer and president of the American Soybean Assn., welcomed the confirmation, citing Branstad’s extensive experience working with China and the importance of that market for U.S. soybean farmers.

“We cannot understate the importance of maintaining a good trading relationship with China, along with all of our top exporting countries, and having Gov. Branstad in place will help ensure that agricultural trade remains a top priority between our two countries,” Moore said.

The U.S. soybean sector exported $27 billion in soybean products last year, making it the largest agricultural export. Of that, sales to China comprised more than $14 billion, establishing the market as the most significant for U.S. soy.

Moore added that his group “is hopeful that Gov. Branstad’s background in agriculture will help the U.S. and China create greater transparency and efficiencies in the biotech approval process and maintain good trade relations.”

Branstad is the longest-serving governor in U.S. history and has been presented with the Lifetime Champion of Renewable Fuels award by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Assn. (IRFA).

“While we hate to lose such a passionate supporter for renewable fuels as governor, there are a number of vital trade issues with China that have a major impact on our industry,” IRFA executive director Monte Shaw said. “With over three decades of international trade experience and his personal relationship with the Chinese president dating back just as long, we look forward to working with Ambassador Branstad in his new role to knock down artificial trade barriers between U.S. ethanol and distillers grains and China.”

Growth Energy chief executive officer Emily Skor said she, too, looks forward to having a great champion for ethanol serve in this role. “This will hopefully be an important first step to reopening the Chinese marketplace to American ethanol and distillers grains,” Skor said.

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