WASHINGTON, Dec. 7, 2016 - Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, who describes himself as a longtime friend of Chinese President Xi Jinping, is President-elect Donald Trump's selection to be ambassador to China, a critical market for U.S. agricultural exports that Trump has threatened with trade actions. 

Branstad has a “great grasp of trade issues, agriculture issues” and a deep knowledge of China, said Trump spokesman Jason Miller. Trump announced Branstad’s selection at a fundraising breakfast Wednesday in New York where a number of agriculture leaders were in attendance. 

Branstad, who met with Trump in New York on Tuesday, “very much impressed” the president-elect, “not just during their meetings on the campaign trail but also in their meetings after the election. It’s very clear that Gov. Branstad is someone who will represent our country well on the world stage,” Miller said. 

Branstad is aware of the importance of China to U.S. agriculture, given the huge market China provides for soybeans and other U.S. farm products. China’s share of U.S. soybeans and other agricultural exports increased from 2 percent in 2000 to about 16 percent by 2014, according to Iowa State University economists. Over the same period, U.S. farm exports tripled from $51 billion to $150 billion.

Some 61 percent of U.S. soybean exports went to China in 2014 as well as 25 percent of U.S. cotton. Soybeans from one of every three rows grown in Iowa are shipped to China.

Branstad’s “enduring relationship with the leaders and people of China, forged over many years of conversation and joint participation in activities here at home and abroad, will advance strong China-U.S. relations at a critical time for both countries,” said Karey Claghorn, chief operating officer of the Iowa Soybean Association.

Neil Dierks, CEO of the National Pork Producers Council, said he had “no doubt that Gov. Branstad will be a great ambassador to China, and with his background, it will be good for our industry, good for agriculture and good for rural America and the country at large."

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Xi visited Iowa in 1985 as part of an agricultural delegation and returned for a visit in 2012 as vice president, nine months before he came the nation's top leader. 

A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry called Branstad an "old friend" of China and said that country would “welcome him to play a greater role in advancing the development of China-U.S. relations," Reuters reported