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Iowa Ag, Business Leaders Hope to Benefit From Soon-To-Be Ambassador Branstad

March 7, 2017

*Reposted from www.globegazette.com

DES MOINES — His job will be to represent the entire United States and act as an intermediary between two of the world’s most populous countries.

But some Iowa business and agriculture leaders think the state could benefit from Terry Branstad serving as U.S. ambassador to China.

Branstad, the nation’s longest-serving governor with more than two decades of service as Iowa’s chief executive, has been nominated by President Donald Trump to be the next ambassador to China. Branstad has not yet been confirmed; that is expected this spring.

Branstad will have broad responsibilities as ambassador to represent the entire country, but some say Iowa very well could benefit from having Branstad serve in that role.

“He’s been such a wonderful advocator for Iowa,” said Li Zhao, president of China Iowa Group, a West Des Moines-based business that contracts with Iowa companies seeking to enter the Chinese market or build business relationships in China. “I think he’s going to be a fantastic ambassador, and Iowa will definitely benefit from that.”

State business and agriculture leaders pointed to Branstad’s close relationships with both country’s presidents and his knowledge of international trade issues, particularly as they relate to Iowa farmers and businesses.

Branstad has had a professional friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping since 1984, when Branstad visited China. The following year, Xi, then a regional official, visited Iowa.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Branstad was an early post-primary supporter of Trump and did not waver when other Republicans questioned some of Trump’s campaign rhetoric. And Branstad’s son, Eric, managed the Trump campaign’s operation in Iowa.

Once confirmed as ambassador to China, Branstad will serve as a primary conduit between the Trump and Xi administrations.

Because of his relationships with both leaders and because Iowa and China are significant trading partners, Branstad could advocate for policies that benefit Iowans, leaders here say.

“We all are looking forward, in ag, to having the governor there in that position,” said Craig Hill, president of the Iowa Farm Bureau, which represents more than 159,000 Iowa farm families, according to its website. “While it does pose great challenges and will be very rigorous for the governor, we’re glad that he’s taken on that duty.”

Iowa exported $2.3 billion in goods to China in 2015, including $1.4 billion in agriculture products, according to the U.S.-China Business Council.

Hill said Branstad’s knowledge of international trade should help Iowa continue to benefit from its trade relationship with China, if not expand those benefits.

Branstad also is a frequent advocate for state policies that benefit Iowa businesses, chief among them, a 2013 package that reduced property tax rates on commercial and industry properties by nearly $400 million in fiscal years 2014 through 2016, according to the state’s nonpartisan fiscal estimating agency.

Iowa businesses that market goods to China hope Branstad can use his close relationship with the Chinese government to encourage international trade policies that benefit them.

“We were pleased that Gov. Branstad was chosen as an ambassador to China,” Ken Golden, global public relations director for Deere & Co., said in an emailed statement. “Gov. Branstad understands the importance of agriculture to Iowa and the entire farm belt of the Midwest. He also understands that global trade is important not only to John Deere as an equipment manufacturer but also to our customers, especially those in agriculture.”

Once he resigns as governor and becomes ambassador, however, Branstad no longer will be representing just one state’s goods and businesses. He will be representing an entire nation, including an administration whose stated goals very well may run afoul of China’s interests.

Trump, for example, has stated a desire to renegotiate trade deals to make them more favorable to the U.S. And China has been accused by the U.S. of multiple violations of trade agreements in recent years.

Hill acknowledged Branstad may be required to walk a fine line but also said he thinks Branstad’s experience makes him the right person for the job.

“I think it’s a two-way street as always in trade, and (Branstad) understands that,” Hill said. “It will be a very strenuous role that he’ll have going forward, certainly. But I think, knowing our governor, he’ll take a very measured, aggressive approach. It will be a positive approach, one that is respectful and considerate of all parties. But I think he’s the right person for the job.”

Branstad said he understands his role will be, on occasion, to try to encourage agreement between the Trump and Xi administrations.

“Donald Trump’s a businessman. He wrote a book called ‘The Art of the Deal,’” Branstad said. “In the end of the day, (Trump) wants to make things better for America. He wants better deals for America. But the best deal is a win-win, which would be better for America but also good for China.

“My goal is to try to be the go-between between the two strong leaders, between President Trump representing America and my old friend Xi Jinping representing China, and hopefully working out some of these difficult issues. And there’s a lot of issues.”

Li said she is confident Branstad will be able to work through all those issues and Iowans will benefit from Branstad’s service as ambassador. She traveled with Branstad’s administration during a recent trade mission to China and marveled at the work Branstad did to foster those trade relationships.

And for Li — as with so many other Iowans who think Branstad will excel in his new role — it all comes back to that deep-seated relationship with President Xi.

“The Chinese culture pays a lot of attention to relationships. We have a word called guanxi,” Li said, referring to a Chinese word that literally means relationships and in Chinese business refers to a network of relationships. “It’s literally the key in doing business, making everything happen in China.

“Gov. Branstad has the perfect guanxi with the highest-ranking officials in China. And that makes him pretty unique.”