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Trade Talk: Pompeo, Branstad visit Iowa, reassure farmers

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stopped in Iowa this week to reassure farmers that trade talks with several countries — including China — were progressing. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Bethany Baratta, ISA senior writer


U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a stop in Iowa earlier this week, reassuring farmers that trade talks with several countries were progressing.

Pompeo spent much of his time talking about the United States’ negotiations with China and the work that negotiators are doing to create a mutually beneficial trade relationship.

Part of the stumbling in getting a deal done, though, lies with differences in philosophy and approach, he said.

You know that Iowa’s bounty has attracted many Chinese leaders wanting to know the state’s secret for prosperity. But they haven’t fully embraced the principle for Iowa’s success, which is free enterprise and hard work and the central idea of individuals to have their own autonomy and their own dignity to lead and take chances and to take risks and build their own businesses,” Pompeo said.

President Donald Trump is taking a “very hard line” on stopping intellectual property theft, he said. And that’s a part of negotiation talks, said U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad.

“There’s been a lot of denial on their (China’s) part, but forced technology transfer … is absolutely real, it’s factual,” Branstad, a former Iowa governor, said. “I don’t know there’s been a direct acknowledgement, but it’s been honestly and frankly discussed in the negotiations.”

Branstad said the importance of getting the deal done can’t be overstated.

“The U.S.-China relationship is the most important bilateral relationship in the world,” he said. “As President Trump has said, the United States seeks a constructive, results-oriented relationship with China, and, of course, the Secretary of State has a critical role to play in that relationship.”

Branstad said trade is one of three main concerns to China.

“I think we’ve made significant progress here recently and we’re hopeful that we can get it resolved in the not-too-distant future,” he said.

 He said the tariffs put into place by the U.S. government on Chinese goods have helped elevate the trade discussions with the Chinese.

“I think the tariffs are part of the leverage of trying to really get the Chinese attention, and I think we’ve gotten their attention,” he said. “And now we need to get this resolved.”

Other concerns in China, Branstad said, include the threat of North Korea and its atomic bomb testing and the selling of products to U.S. drug dealers used to illegally make fentanyl.

U.S. Ambassador to China Terry Branstad stressed the importance of striking a deal with China to a large crowd of farmers and agriculture professionals during a visit to Des Moines this week. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

Other trade prospects

China isn’t the only deal at play, Pompeo said. He said it’s likely the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) will be passed by the end of the year.

I am very confident there are enough votes to get the USMCA moved through our government. Without getting in the business of other sovereign nations’ decision-making processes, I am confident that those countries, too, will conclude that this deal is their best opportunity,” Pompeo told a standing-room-only crowd at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates in Des Moines.

He was uncertain about the future of the 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Pompeo expects a bilateral agreement with Japan soon. Work is also being done to create a bilateral agreement with Vietnam, but he didn’t delve into details about what could be included in that, nor did he provide a timeline.

Although farmers have been hopeful for trade deals to put an end to tariffs and to open market access, Pompeo said they want to get the deals right the first time.

That means making a deal with a mechanism in place for holding countries accountable.

Dave Struthers, a soybean, corn and pig farmer near Collins, said he appreciates that.

“It’s a difficult situation with enforcement if we do get an agreement. How are we going to make sure they abide by the agreement, because there is history of that not happening,” Struthers said. “We can sign all the pieces of paper in the world, but if there’s nothing enforceable, then what good is it?”

Like many other farmers in the audience, Ray Gaesser was hopeful the event would be an announcement about final trade negotiations.

“Unrealistically, we were all hoping that there would be some kind of an announcement, some kind of a deal with China that would at least partially alleviate the trade issue, but we didn’t really expect it,” said Gaesser, a farmer from Corning and past Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) president.

However, Pompeo’s messages about finding those resolutions soon was encouraging, said Ron Heck, a farmer from Perry and former ISA director.

“We need results,  but it’s really great that they know it and that they’re working on it. We know they’re working on what we care about,” Heck said.


Contact Bethany Baratta at

For media inquiries, permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos, please contact Katie James, ISA Public Relations Manager at © 2020 Iowa Soybean Association. All rights reserved.

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