On February 29, the U.S.-China Policy Foundation hosted a breakfast meeting on Capitol Hill for Members of Congress and senior Chinese officials interested in promoting the trade of wheat and other agricultural products between the two countries. Among the delegates from China were Mr. Sun Zhenyu, Vice-Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation (MOFTEC) and Mr. Zhou Ming-chen, President of the China National Cereals, Oil and Foodstuffs Import and Export Corporation (COFCO). They met with Senators Thomas A. Daschle (D-SD), Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Conrad Burns (R-MT) to discuss possible purchases of U.S. agricultural products. Other guests included Alan Lee, Chairman of the North Dakota Wheat Commission as well as Congressional staff and members of the USCPF executive board. More than forty invited guests were in attendance.
The breakfast was a productive forum that allowed U.S. and Chinese representatives to share views on broad and specific trade issues. During the meeting, Senator Daschle expressed his support for Congressional approval of granting permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) with China, claiming that the implementation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) deal is very important for future relations between the U.S. and China. Senators Dorgan and Burns emphasized that U.S. trade relations with China must be mutually beneficial and should address the rapidly expanding U.S. trade deficit. The Senators further conveyed hopes that China would increase their imports of U.S. agriculture products and encouraged their purchase of other U.S. products as well.
Both Minister Sun and President Zhou articulated China’s serious intentions for improving trade relations, stating that this would contribute greatly to building a strategic partnership between the two countries in the twenty-first century. Both Chinese officials expressed their sincere hopes that PNTR and China’s entry to the WTO would be resolved this year, adding that the U.S. should not make this into a political issue, but rather should realize the benefits of the trade agreement.
The meeting came a day after the announcement of a $6 million deal for China to purchase 50,000 tons of wheat from the Pacific Northwest. This so-called "trial purchase" of U.S. agriculture products is the first under the bilateral agreement signed last April on citrus, wheat, and meat, a component of the landmark trade deal for China’s entry into WTO signed in November 1999.
Senators at the USCPF meeting considered the purchase to be a small but significant first step towards increasing agricultural trade with China. Many states, including South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon hope China will make many additional purchases of U.S. wheat to signal its willingness to follow through on the concessions of the WTO agreement.
The U.S. and Chinese representatives used the meeting as an opportunity to build upon the encourging precedent set by the announcement of the first wheat purchase deal.