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China "very important to our economy," says U.S. governor

02-10-2012 15:13 BJT Special Report:Vice President Xi Visits US, Ireland, Turkey |

DES MOINES, the United States, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. state of Iowa, building on its strong ties with China, hopes to expand trade with the Asian country from the traditional agricultural sector to new areas such as manufacturing and green energy, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad said.

"China is very important to our economy in Iowa," Branstad told Xinhua in an interview ahead of a scheduled trip to this U.S. Midwest farm state by Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who is scheduled to pay an official visit to the United States from Feb. 13 to 17.

As one of the leading U.S. agricultural states, Iowa has in recent years played a key role in expanding U.S. exports to China, which is now the world's largest importer of U.S. agricultural goods, Branstad said.

"Certainly it has been a wonderful thing for both countries, and it has made a big difference in income for Iowa farmers, thanks to the demand from China for things like corn, soybeans and pork," the governor said.

Iowa's exports to China have grown a whopping 1,300 percent over the past decade, and Branstad said that the state is enthusiastic about expanding the trade relations even further in the future.

He pointed to the fact that both a growing middle class and the population in general have led to rising protein needs in China, which can be served especially by those agricultural products that "just happen to play to Iowa's strengths."

Dubbed the "American Heartland," Iowa leads the country in corn, soybeans and pork production. The fact that China's particular crop interests dovetail so well with Iowa's specialties is highly significant for the state, the governor said.

Thanks in part to Iowa's lucrative trade with China, the Iowa Land Value Survey conducted by Iowa State University found that 2011 Iowa farmland values rose 32.5 percent from 2010 to an average of 6,708 U.S. dollars per acre, the highest yearly increase in the history of the survey.

Branstad said the Iowan farmers are very grateful for the opportunity and hope Iowa will continue to use its land to provide quality products for China.

"Iowa farmers do understand that it's not just an accident that we have sky-high prices for corn and soybeans -- a big portion of this is because of the demand and the opportunities to sell more products in the Chinese marketplace, so we appreciate that and that's why I think the (Chinese) connection with Iowa is so important," Branstad said.

Meanwhile, the governor observed that Iowa's relationship with China should not be limited to agriculture alone, listing quite a few new areas in which the state looks to collaborate with China, from manufacturing to retirement consulting.

Branstad also cited the development of new forms of renewable energy as yet another opportunity to partner with China, as Iowa is one of the world's largest producers of ethanol and also generates 20 percent of its electricity through wind farms.

The governor said Iowa looks forward to sharing its experience in the green industry with China, as the two sides could work together to decrease dependence on fossil fuels and explore more sustainable forms of energy.

Looking into the future, Branstad stressed that it is Iowa's overall goal to ensure the mutually beneficial cooperation between the two sides continues.

Branstad, 66, who also served as Iowa governor from 1983 to 1999, said he has always felt a personal connection with China and the Chinese people since he first met Xi, the current Chinese vice president, back in 1985.

Then a local official from China's northern province of Hebei, which has a "sister state" relationship with Iowa, Xi visited the state on a trade mission. Besides meeting with Branstad in Des Moines to discuss agricultural issues, he also stayed with a local family in the small city of Muscatine to better understand Iowan farm life.

When Branstad traveled to China last September and met Xi again, he took that opportunity to invite the Chinese leader for a return trip to Iowa.

Branstad believed that such exchanges of visits and people-to-people connections are of great importance to the advancement of U.S.-China relations, because more mutual understanding and friendship will lead to even more cooperation.

"We really want to build on those long-standing friendships that we have with the vice president and many people from our 'sister state' of Hebei Province, and we are very hopeful that we can see additional exchanges and additional trade as we go forward," Branstad said.

Previously, the governor said Wednesday at a press conference that Xi's visit will help further strengthen U.S.-China relations and bring more business and trade opportunities for both sides.

"This visit will be an incredible opportunity to educate Iowans on how significant the relationship between China and Iowa is, and how long it's been going on," Branstad said.

"This is a very exciting thing for Iowa. We think it will be a very memorable occasion," he said.

Iowa Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, who was also present at the press conference, said he believes the future is holding a wealth of business opportunities for both countries.

Joining the U.S. hosts at the press conference, Chinese Consul-general in Chicago Yang Guoqiang said he expects Xi's scheduled activity in Muscatine to be "a very touching reunion for friendship."

"I believe the vice president's visit will truly enhance friendship and bring more people-to-people exchanges between our two countries," Yang added

Xi will be the most senior foreign leader to visit the Hawkeye State in more than half a century, local officials said.

Editor:Wang Lingfei |Source: Xinhua

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