Harvesting International Relations: Iowa soybean farmer talks trade with Chinese President Xi Jinping

Iowa soybean farmers recently had an opportunity to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Their discussion revolved around the importance of continued agricultural trade as China remains the largest destination for U.S. soybean exports.

Maintaining international trade agreements and fostering good relationships with foreign nations is vital when it comes to securing a market presence for American crops and other goods. That is why Iowa soybean farmer Grant Kimberly seized the unique opportunity to speak with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the Asia-Pacific Summit in California, where economic leaders met with Xi as well as had a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden.

Kimberly, who also serves as the senior director of market development for the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA), shared insights from the important meeting with the Chinese president in a recent interview with the ISA.

The soybean farmer’s conversation with President Xi, which also included a group of Iowans connected to China, centered around the significance of agricultural trade and its crucial role in fostering soybean exports to China, one of the largest trade partnerships with the United States.

The recent meeting was a continuation of a long-standing relationship between the foreign leader and these Iowans. Some ISA members who participated in the discussion also met President Xi during his first visit to Iowa in 1985 — and again in 2012 when he was the vice president.

During their informal trade talk, Kimberly emphasized the value of the relationship between the U.S. and China in the context of agriculture trade. He conveyed the importance of the soybean industry’s history in China since the mid-1980s and expressed the ongoing commitment to working together to ensure a safe, affordable, and sustainable food supply, specifically in providing soybeans to China.

In response to why personal connections are crucial for trade in Asia, Kimberly highlighted the cultural significance of personal relationships in China. He emphasized the respect shown during their interactions with President Xi and other Chinese officials.

Kimberly also underscored the paramount role of China as the world’s largest market for soybeans — which imports 60 percent of all globally traded soybeans, and approximately 30 percent of all U.S. soybeans annually — making the maintenance of this relationship pivotal for both nations.

With a population of 1.4 billion people and limited arable land, the talks also dove into the demographic challenges faced by China. Kimberley says China’s need for soybeans is multifaceted — not only needed for human consumption, soybeans are also vital to sustain its growing demand for livestock feed, especially in the pork and poultry industries. As China’s population’s income improves, the demand for meat rises, further solidifying the importance of the U.S.-China agricultural trade relationship.