It is hard to think of someone who thought himself to be a more skilled player of geopolitical chess, than Russian President Vladimir Putin. But it’s time to acknowledge that’s untrue thanks to President Biden’s leadership in quickly building and leading a multilateral military and economic response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Although we, and our European allies, are locked in a bloody conflict with Russia, our most formidable adversary is China. The question now facing the Biden administration, and also being examined closely by the bipartisan House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, is how to best respond to a growingly confrontational China and the vulnerability of our critical supply chains, such as for semiconductors and food, to Chinese influence.
A startling fact is that 90 percent of advanced chips manufactured in the world are made in Taiwan – a Taiwan that is vulnerable to Chinese attack. Recognizing this, President Biden demonstrated decisive leadership to help re-shore the semiconductor supply chain away from Asia. Tens of billions of dollars in commitments by semiconductor companies to onshore production of critical chips from China to the United States have been announced since the CHIPS Act legislation was signed into law last August.
Building on the bipartisan success of the CHIPS Act, the upcoming farm bill is another opportunity for President Biden and Congress to address our supply chain vulnerabilities. Undeniably, China sees agriculture and our food supply chain as leverage to use against us. Consider the recent failed effort by Fufeng Group – a Chinese company with strong links to the Chinese Communist Party and production facilities in Xinjiang Province, which creates concerns about them using forced labor – to purchase agricultural land in North Dakota that is in proximity to the U.S. Air Force’s Grand Forks Air Base. Thankfully, the North Dakota community blocked this proposed project after the U.S. Air Force asserted that the land was chosen for espionage purposes and that the project was a “significant threat to national security.”
Fufeng is at the center of another concern, which is their efforts to undermine the U.S. amino acids industry, which is critical for animal feed. As I previously pointed out in the Des Moines Register, Chinese companies such as Fufeng are trying to corner the amino acids market in order to make American farmers, food producers and ultimately American consumers at the grocery store vulnerable to Chinese influence. In fact, three lawmakers have raised these concerns with the Biden administration, writing that that “Unchallenged Chinese control in our domestic amino acids industry will put our food supply chain at risk.”
To confront this challenge from Fufeng, I hope U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai will continue tariffs on Chinese amino acids and expand them to include lysine and threonine which are important amino acids used by American pork and poultry producers.
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The upcoming farm bill is also an opportunity to strengthen our domestic agriculture industry. I would urge the President to consider adding the Secretaries of Agriculture and Health and Human Services as members of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews the sale of critical infrastructure to foreign entities. This may help the current and future Administrations to consider the security of our nation’s food and agriculture systems as a factor when determining to act to block foreign investment – especially from China.
The farm bill is an opportunity for bipartisanship. Protecting American farmers is paramount for both Democrats and Republicans. Love of country often outweighs political concerns even on Capitol Hill, which always gives me hope for a brighter future.
Mike Espy worked on the farm bill as a member of the House Agriculture Committee from 1987-1992, and as part of President Bill Clinton’s Cabinet from 1993 to 1995, when he was the first African-American to serve as the U.S. secretary of agriculture.
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