Iowa farmers on Thursday urged members of Congress to be cautious in seeking to curb Chinese theft of U.S. intellectual property and unfair trade tactics, noting the nation's importance as a consumer of soybeans and other commodities. 

“We need to be deliberate and thoughtful, please,” Iowa farmer Suzanne Shirbroun said at a House Committee on the Chinese Communist Party roundtable in Dysart, Iowa.

She said revoking China’s permanent most favored nation status would “decimate agriculture exports and could deal a great blow to the American farmer."

Shirbroun, president-elect of the Iowa Soybean Association, said Congress needs to act “fairly, but firmly,” when it comes to theft of intellectual property like seeds. She said lawmakers should support targeted export controls of sensitive technologies that “safeguard U.S. innovation and national security and help farmers protect critical data, information and intellectual properties." 

Shirbroun said the U.S. also should look to diversify its export markets to other countries, particularly in South Asia. She urged Congress to avoid new soybean tariffs and reduce existing ones.

The roundtable was held to examine attempts by the Chinese government to steal biotech seeds from the U.S., which the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission warned last year could “allow China to develop its own versions of American seed lines at a far faster rate than they originally took to develop.” 

One instance of attempted seed theft took place in 2016, when a Chinese national stole inbred corn seeds from DuPont Pioneer and Monsanto production fields. Mo Hailong, the director of international business for a Chinese conglomerate known as the Beijing Dabeinong Technology Group, was sentenced to three years in jail for participating in a conspiracy to steal trade secrets

Committee Chairman Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., said the U.S. technology ecosystem is a “bucket that currently has massive holes in the bottom” that can be plugged using export controls, research security and outbound capital restriction.

“Both the Trump and Biden administrations have oriented U.S. strategy around competing with the Chinese Communist Party, but we are not competing if we're letting the CCP steal hundreds of billions of dollars from Americans,” Gallagher said. "We’re throwing the game from the outset.”

Will Cornelius, vice president of Cornelius Seed, a small Iowa company, called for investing in and encouraging more research and development by small seed companies, which he said could help diversify the marketplace and prevent widespread outbreaks of crop diseases.

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The 2022 U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission report warned that access to genetic codes could allow the Chinese Communist Party to target American crops with diseases. 

Roundtable participants also said it is important to maintain infrastructure necessary for transporting goods to China and other countries, particularly locks and dams on the Mississippi River.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, an Illinois Democrat and the China committee’s ranking member, said the bipartisan infrastructure law was an important step towards improving these systems. This funding, however, needs to be implemented quickly to keep the U.S. competitive with China, he said.

"Upping our own game is part of our competition with China,” Krishnamoorthi said. "Their infrastructure is second to none. We can get there, if we do it together.”

Shirbroun said free trade would yield economic returns that could help develop and advance infrastructure. She said all of her soybeans and more than half of her corn get shipped through the aging locks on the Mississippi River.

“It’s easier to repair than replace, so anything we can do to repair would be great,” she said.

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