Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping called for more cooperation between the United States and China in the matters of trade, science and food security to kick off the first United States-China Agriculture symposium Thursday in Des Moines.
Speaking through an interpreter, Xi said farmers and farming “hold a special place in my heart” because he worked as a farmer for seven years in China as he rose through the Communist Party ranks.
It was the second day of Xi’s visit in Iowa, which included a visit to Muscatine, a state dinner in Des Moines, the morning remarks at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates and concluding with a visit to an Iowa farm. Xi is heir-apparent to the Chinese presidency.
The symposium itself was closed to media, and reporters were allowed to attend only the opening remarks, which included comments from Xi, Gov. Terry Branstad, U.S. Agriculture and Chinese Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu and U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke.
Xi said the demand for agriculture is growing in China, but domestic production has increased and management has improved to meet most of the demand. In 2011, China was the largest importer of U.S. farm goods, buying $23.3 billion in goods.
“China still needs soy protein,” he said. “In wheat, rice and corn, we have achieved a balance.”
U.S. Department of Agriculture officials would not release a guest list of attendees, but described the gathering as made up of government and business leaders with an interest in agriculture. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack also announced the expected signing of a “strategic cooperation agreement” with the Chinese concerning “food security, food safety and food stability.”
“China’s improving their whole agricultural system,” said Phillip Seng, president of the U.S. Meat Export Federation, and one of the attendees. He said the Chinese population is becoming less rural and more urban, which is spurring the growth of a megafarm industry.
“What that means is there is a change in how productive they were with the smaller outfits to how they are going to be with the larger ones, so I think there’s an opportunity there,” he said.
Branstad emphasized the importance of China to Iowa exports in his remarks and pitched for some more business.“For those of you not from Iowa, our state is open for business, and I would very much welcome the opportunity to help you find a home in Iowa,” he said.