WASHINGTON, May 3, 2017 - Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad breezed through two hours of detailed questioning Tuesday at his confirmation hearing to be the next ambassador to China, apparently garnering bipartisan support from members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The questions ranged from beef trade with the Asian nation to China’s role in countering North Korean aggression, but Branstad answered them all, paving the way for noncontroversial votes by the committee and the full Senate. No votes have been scheduled.
“Beijing is not Des Moines, but I know that your relationship with President Xi spans decades, and I’m confident that you fully understand the breadth and depth of the challenges awaiting you in China,” Chairman Bob Corker, R-Tenn., told Branstad during the hearing.
It was a sentiment expressed by other committee members including Republican Todd Young of Indiana and Democrats Chris Coons of Delaware and Ben Cardin of Maryland.
Branstad has known Chinese President Xi Jinping for more than 30 years – long before Xi was president. The two first met in 1985 when Xi led a corn-processing delegation to Iowa and Branstad hosted the visitors in the governor’s mansion.
“If confirmed I hope to use my unique position as an old friend of President Xi and the trusted confidant of President Trump to positively influence the U.S.-China relationship,” Branstad said.
“I want to serve American beef – specifically Iowa premium beef – at the embassy and at the ambassador’s residence,” Branstad told the lawmakers. “I don’t think it’s fair that right now we have to serve Australian beef or Argentinian beef.”That friendship with Xi could help the U.S. negotiate an end to the Chinese ban on U.S. beef, Branstad said.
China buys about $2.6 billion worth of beef every year, according to the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the group has made it a priority to regain access to that market.
China banned U.S. beef in December, 2003, after the first case of mad cow disease was detected in the U.S. Since then China has announced twice that it was lifting the ban, but trade still has not resumed.
Getting China to lift the ban has become a priority for the Trump administration, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters Monday that he is working on a strategy at the request of Trump. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., who just returned from a trip to China, told Agri-Pulse Tuesday that he saw signs that China was finally willing to lift the ban.
Branstad also stressed at the hearing that he would be able to be tough and critical when needed, treating China as an ally or an antagonist, when appropriate.
“Just because China’s leader calls me a friend doesn’t mean I won’t bring up criticisms,” he said. “I’ve seen areas where we’ve made progress and I’ve also seen areas where we’ve lost ground,” he said. “We have to be vigilant … where we think they’re being unfair.”
One of the areas where China is treating the U.S. unfairly is on distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS), Branstad said.
In January, China’s Commerce Ministry announced it was slapping anti-dumping and countervailing duties on U.S. DDGS that total about 90 percent of the price on the feed product. Beijing charged the U.S. industry was unfairly benefiting from subsidies.
China bought 6.3 million tons of DDGS in 2015, valued at about $1.6 billion, according to U.S. Grains Council officials. That was up from 4.3 million tons – or $1.25 billion worth – in 2014. The new duties imposed by China have effectively brought that trade to a halt.
Growth Energy CEO Emily Skor released a statement after the hearing, lauding Branstad for his concern over China’s treatment of DDGS, which are a co-product of ethanol production.
“Gov. Branstad has been an incredible ally and champion of the American ethanol industry, and having him as our ambassador to China would be an important step forward in helping re-open the Chinese marketplace to American ethanol and distiller’s grains. We are eager for his confirmation and hope the Senate will confirm him quickly.”