WASHINGTON, March 28, 2012 -The largest ever U.S. agricultural trade mission to China has already paid dividends for some of the nearly 40 participating American companies, a senior USDA official said.

“We’ve already been made aware of some of the deals that have been done,” Michael Scuse, Acting Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, told Agri-Pulse in an exclusive interview Tuesday evening.

He did not provide details of the transactions, but indicated the agribusiness executives he’d spoken with were “very happy” with the results through the fourth day of the scheduled five-day trip, which began in Chengdu and concludes today in Shanghai.

“It’s been a very interesting trade mission and I think at the end of the day we are going to have some really great results for a whole host of U.S. companies,” predicted Scuse, who’s leading the delegation.

Ag trade between the two countries in fiscal 2011 reached an all-time high of $32.1 billion. U.S. shipments to China, the top international buyer, were worth $22.8 billion and Chinese exports to the United States were valued at $9.3 billion.

With seven offices in five cities, USDA is well-positioned to support American agriculture and agribusiness in the world’s fastest growing economy, Scuse said.

“We think there are opportunities to increase the amount of trade that we are doing with China dramatically in the future and that’s why we are here, to build those relationships,” he said, dismissing concerns expressed by some China-watchers that the Asian giant’s economy may slow more than expected this year.

“When you look at how the economy of this country is improving and the overall economic conditions, we think that the opportunities here are going to grow,” the USDA official stated.

U.S. farm and food sales to China have increased by more than 80% in the past three years, led by shipments of bulk commodities like soybeans and cotton. Corn could soon join the list.

“They were in the U.S. corn market bigger this past year than they have ever been before and I think there are some really good opportunities for us to expand that going forward,” Scuse said.

China had booked 3.5 million metric tons of U.S. corn for delivery in 2011-12 through mid February, according to the U.S. Grains Council.

Much of Scuse’s time during the trip is being spent in meetings with Chinese government officials.

Joined by Darci Vetter, FFAS Deputy Under Secretary, and Islam Siddiqui, chief agricultural negotiator in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Scuse held what he termed “very frank” discussions with Chinese quarantine and inspection bureaucrats about import barriers to U.S. agricultural shipments.

The trio was scheduled to fly to Beijing Wednesday to resume bilateral talks on market access for American beef.

China has banned beef imports from the United States since BSE was discovered in a Washington State cattle herd in 2003, and the Obama administration has been pressing Beijing to reopen its market in accordance with OIE guidelines that allow imports derived from cattle under 30 months old.

“At this particular time, we don’t see a reason why our products are banned,” Scuse said. “And I’ll be honest with you, in talking with the citizens here and some of the chefs in the restaurants, there’s a tremendous demand for American beef. So, we’re going to continue to work with the Chinese government, to see what we can do to get that ban lifted and get great US beef products into the Chinese market, the USDA official said.

U.S. beef exports would likely reach $200 million in value in the first full year of access, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, putting China among the top five export destinations.


Original story printed in March 28, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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