Trade mission to tout Iowa beef, pork exports in Asia

Iowa exported $564 million in meat to Japan in 2015

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DES MOINES — Leaders of Iowa’s meat industry, along with Gov. Terry Branstad, plan to make a direct sales pitch to China and Japan while pending trade agreements languish in Washington.

Branstad announced Monday he would lead a trade delegation to China and Japan next month to tout Iowa beef and pork. The Nov. 11-18 trip will mark his 17th visit to Japan and sixth to China in two stints as governor.

“Trade missions like this one allow Iowa companies to expand their markets outside of the U.S. and ultimately creates more jobs and strengthens our economy,” Branstad told his weekly news conference, at which he was accompanied by officials from Iowa commodity groups.

In 2015, Iowa companies exported $1.2 billion in manufactured and value-added goods to China and $1.1 billion to Japan, according to the governor’s office. China is Iowa’s third-largest export destination, while Japan is the fourth largest.

In addition, Japan is Iowa’s leading export market for pork and beef products. Iowa companies exported $564 million in meat products to Japan in 2015. 

Chris Freland, executive director of the Iowa Beef Industry Council, said the mission comes at a critical time because China’s 13-year ban on U.S. beef imports was recently lifted, giving Iowa’s cattle industry a shot at getting a share of that country’s $2.3 billion market.

“We want to be a partner in that game,” said Freland, who noted Iowa raises nearly 4 million head of cattle annually as the fifth-leading U.S. state but needs expanded markets to keep the industry profitable.

“China is a fifth of the world population, so that makes for a great market opportunity with our beef products,” she added. “We are cautiously optimistic.”

Al Wulfekuhle, a Quasqueton farmer who is president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, said both China and Japan are “important destinations” for Iowa’s pork products, but exports are lagging behind last year and hopes for approval of a Trans-Pacific Partnership to bolster U.S. trade prospects appear doubtful.

Branstad noted both presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, have said they oppose TPP and Branstad does not believe there is support in Congress to approve it in a lame-duck session. This means the deal likely will have to be renegotiated, Branstad said.

He blamed the Obama administration for sluggish farm prices, but Wulfekuhle said the problem for pork producers taking advantage of low corn prices is rooted in an increase in production coupled with a slowing in the growth of export sales.

The volume of U.S. pork exports to Japan is down 12 percent this year in part because the Japanese buy more pork from Europe, he said.

The planned mission will include stops in Beijing and Hebei (Iowa’s sister state) in China, while Tokyo is the primary destination in Japan.

In China, the governor is slated to speak at China’s Food Security and Food Safety Strategy Summit and the International Meat Conference. Additional mission highlights include a potential meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who Branstad called “my old friend,” attending a reception at U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy’s residence and meeting with investment or trade prospects. 

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