The U.S. will be losing one of its staunchest advocates in China for U.S. beef, ethanol and other farm goods in early October. That’s when Ambassador Terry Branstad says he is stepping down from being the top U.S. representative in Beijing.

“I am proudest of our work in getting the Phase One trade deal and delivering tangible results for our communities back home,” said Branstad, who Trump administration officials say played a major role in getting China to drop restrictions on U.S. agricultural commodities. “Our goal remains meaningful, measurable results for American families. We have made significant progress and we will not stop pressing for more.” 

The former six-term governor of Iowa will be departing as the relationship between the U.S. and China grows more contentious, but the escalating friction appears not to be impacting China’s “phase one” pledges to drop ag trade barriers and ramp up imports of U.S. soybeans, corn, beef, pork, sorghum and wheat.

As of Sept. 3, the latest USDA sales and export data, outstanding soybeans sales to China for the new crop year totaled a record-breaking 15.5 million metric tons.

Since Branstad arrived in Beijing in 2017, he’s leaned heavily on his long, personal relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Branstad first met Xi 35 years ago in 1985 when Xi - long before he was president - led a corn-processing delegation to Iowa and Branstad hosted the visitors in the governor’s mansion. That relationship, together with Branstad’s extensive knowledge of U.S. agriculture, have helped maintain the remaining bridge between the two nations that are increasingly at odds over Hong Kong, COVID-19, the South China Sea and alleged spying.

One aspect of the “phase one” pact that hasn’t panned out yet is U.S. exports of rice to China. While China did lift its ban, approved U.S. facilities to export the grain and committed to making purchases, Chinese buyers haven’t begun importing. But that’s not for lack of lobbying by Branstad. He and his staff at the embassy starred in a video to promote U.S. rice directly to the Chinese.   

In May, Branstad told Agri-Pulse in an exclusive interview he was confident the commodity purchases from the "phase one" deal would come. 

"We're hopeful that as we get further into the year, we're going to see a significant increase in the purchases, especially with soybeans and with some of the other commodities," he said. "China has the capacity to do it. And a lot of the customers are state-owned enterprises. So if the national government here wants to fulfill their commitment, I think they have the ability to do it."

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Branstad did not offer a reason for his resignation; a statement from the embassy says he plans to return to Iowa. 

“Ambassador Branstad has contributed to rebalancing U.S.-China relations so that it is results-oriented, reciprocal and fair,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in tweets Monday. “This will have lasting, positive effects on U.S. foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific for decades to come. I thank Ambassador Terry Branstad for his more than three years of service to the American people as U.S. Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China.”

Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue tweeted gratification of his own Monday, thanking Branstad for his "lifetime of service to advance American agriculture both home and abroad."

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