Branstad: China may stall Biden administration efforts to improve trade deals

Then-U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad greets Chinese President Xi Jinping, a long-time friend. (Photo courtesy of Land Investment Expo)

Former U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad warned Tuesday that China may stall the Biden administration’s efforts to advance trade negotiations. 

But Branstad said he hopes his fellow former Iowa governor, incoming U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, will be able to build on agreements that have helped boost commodity prices in recent months.

“China always tries to see what they can get by with,” Branstad said. “Unfortunately, in the past, they keep promising they’re going to do these things to reform and open up but then it keeps getting put away and doesn’t get done.

“I’m hopeful that (Vilsack) can have some influence on the new administration to see that we stick not only to the Phase One agreement, but hopefully move forward and look at some of the unfair subsidies of state-owned enterprises (in China) that were intended to be part of the Phase Two agreement as well,” Branstad said. 

Branstad, who returned to Iowa three months ago, spoke at the Land Investment Expo in Des Moines. 

Branstad said the new administration should be ready for delay tactics from the Chinese.

“The Chinese loved what we call dialogues, which they considered success. But we want results,” Branstad said. “The Trump administration was not very patient about trying to get results.”

But the administration’s negotiators, working with Branstad, signed the Phase One agreement in January 2020. That included China’s promise  to buy more soybeans from the United States, which has boosted prices recently even though China is behind on its promised purchases.

The arrival of COVID-19, which is believed to have originated in China, forced Branstad to lead the evacuation of 1,300 Americans. The economic disruption of the pandemic stalled trade talks with the communist country. 

But lately, there have been signs of improved trade.

“What we’ve seen since September is record amounts of corn and soybeans have been purchased,” Branstad said. “The price of corn has gone from $3 (per bushel) to almost $5. Soybeans have gone from $9 (per bushel) to almost $15. It’s made agriculture much more profitable,” and is likely to boost farmland values, he added.

The Land Investment Expo, sponsored by Peoples Company of Clive and others, each year assembles keynote speakers to address major agricultural topics.