What to do when your major adversary is also your biggest customer?

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

March 21, 2024

3 Min Read
American and Chinese flags
Getty Images/cbarnesphotography

Congress has lots to say about China these days. The House Ag Committee dispelled any doubts about that Wednesday when it hosted a nearly five-hour hearing titled, “The Danger China Poses to American agriculture.”

Committee Chair Glenn “GT” Thompson, R- PA, set the tone in his opening remarks, saying the Chinese government had gone out of its way to reduce its reliance on American agriculture.  According to him, China has also been aggressively pursuing tactics that threaten the United States’ ability to feed itself.

“These threats are multifaceted, strategic, incendiary, and require a coordinated and proactive response,” Thompson said.

What followed was a hearing that was at times contentious, fairly mild by today’s standards. Many lamented China’s influence in agriculture while acknowledging its importance as the largest export market for U.S. farmers. While most everyone agreed that American agriculture would benefit from diversifying its export base, those efforts will likely take years to bear fruit. Even if they do, it would be next to impossible to replace the money famers make from Chinese exports.

South Dakota Republican Governor (and potential Donald Trump running mate) Kristi Noem was the first to testify. She painted a bleak picture of the situation in her state, saying she has witnessed a “hostile communist country” work to take over the food supply chain.

Ranking member David Scott, D- GA, was among multiple lawmakers who cautioned against allowing fear of the Chinese government turning Americans against Chinese people.

“Unfortunately, some of the rhetoric surrounding this topic may derail us from tackling the real issues at hand and may contribute to violence against Asian Americans,” he said. “I want all Americans to know that we on the Agriculture Committee condemn all bigotry, including race-motivated threats and acts of violence. This is about agricultural policy, not people policy.”

On multiple occasions, Scott also asked those testifying to share their thoughts on imposing additional tariffs on China. Presidential candidate Donald Trump has indicated he may exact tariffs of up to 60% on Chinese exports.

These are even higher than the tariffs he imposed on China during his previous term in office.

American Soybean Association President Josh Gackle noted that China accounts for nearly $19 billion of the total $32 billion of American soybeans exported last year.  According to him, the trade war between the U.S. and China in 2017 and 2018 cost the U.S. agriculture industry approximately $27 billion. By some estimates, soybeans accounted for 71% of those annualized losses. It also led to Brazil surpassing the United States as the world’s leading soybean exporter.

“As the United States considers actions to protect our national security interests, we must also maintain and protect our economic and trade interests as well,” Gackle said. “Soybean growers need predictability and certainty that we will retain market access in China.”

Others testifying before the committee included Mike Gallagher and Raja Krishnamoorthi from the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, former Treasury Department official Nova Daly and former U.N. Ambassador Kip Tom. Together they presented compelling cases for why Chinese activities in the U.S. should be more closely scrutinized.

Still, those fears don’t change the fact that China is currently a critical U.S. trading partner. Despite all the talk, the hearing ended with little agreement on how to move forward. Many members had already left for other appointments. The only thing everyone seemed agreed with was the need to do something different.

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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