USDA expands its presence in China, opening new Agricultural Trade Office

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Sept. 17 – Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner promised frustrated senators Thursday that the administration will get tougher with China and its undervalued currency to achieve “a more balanced economic relationship.” Meanwhile, on Friday the Department of Agriculture expanded current policies, with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announcing that USDA has opened a new Agricultural Trade Office (ATO) in Shenyang, the capital of northwest China’s international trade hub in Liaoning province. Ideally, the future will hold not only USDA's expanded presence in China but a currency re-evaluation to make this presence more valuable to U.S. exporters.

Agricultural Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Jim Miller officially opened the office on behalf of USDA. Along with opening the new ATO, Miller and Ambassador Isi Siddiqui, Chief Agricultural Negotiator for the U.S. Trade Representative, are holding bilateral discussions with Chinese officials on agricultural trade, meeting with cooperator organizations, and attending the Shanghai Expo and an agricultural trade show in China.

“Increased agricultural exports create important income opportunities for producers as well as the off-farm jobs that are so critical for strengthening economies in rural America,” Vilsack said in announcing the new ATO. “China is a vital market for U.S. agricultural products, and this new office will help exporters take advantage of rising per capita incomes and steady economic growth in the region by raising the profile of American agricultural and food products.”

The opening of the new ATO in mainland China marks USDA’s expansion into the dynamic hub of northeast China and is part of the administration’s National Export Initiative (NEI) intended to double American exports by 2015. It also represents a significant step as the United States expands its presence from the major market centers of Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai, to up-and-coming emerging city markets like Shenyang and Chengdu.

China is the world’s second largest economy behind the United States and the second largest market for U.S. agricultural exports, importing roughly $13 billion worth of U.S. agricultural products in fiscal year 2009. In addition to continued demand for traditional products such as soybeans and cotton, there has also been strong demand for high-value and high-quality products such as meat and consumer-oriented products including wine and beer. While U.S. bulk commodities have fared well in this market – the market for U.S. soybeans accounts for nine percent of all U.S. agricultural exports – U.S. consumer-ready foods like nuts, dairy products and wine are also important exports.

Every billion dollars in agricultural exports supports over 8,000 jobs and generates an additional $1.4 billion in economic activity. USDA recently announced that it was raising the forecast for agricultural exports for Fiscal Year 2010 to $107.5 billion, the second highest year on record and an $11 billion increase over last year. Agriculture is one of the only major sectors of the American economy with a trade surplus – expected to be $30.5 billion this year.

Along with offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Chengdu, the Shenyang office is the fifth ATO on mainland China and the 102nd overseas office staffed by USDA in 82 countries around the world. The primary mission of ATOs is to assist in marketing and promoting U.S. agricultural, fish, and forestry products, and to assist in trade development in their respective regions. The offices provide a starting point for U.S. companies, cooperatives, farmers, and processors interested in exporting.

USDA’s newest Agricultural Trade Office can be reached through the U.S. Consulate in Shenyang by telephone 011-86-24-2322-1198 ext. 8189. The director of the new office is James Butterworth of USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service.

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