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The Meeting: United States and China

Tom Vilsack hosted Tang Renjian on January 18th. This could represent much more than one man inviting another one over for conversation. These are men from two countries with a geopolitical relationship somewhere between friend and foe. Their economies – not to mention global stability – could be best served by meaningful collaboration between the two.

Vilsack is the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. (He is serving his third term. Vilsack held the post for eight years during President Barack Obama’s terms in office from 2009-2017 and then began his current term after President Joe Biden took office in 2021.)

Tom Vilsack
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Photo courtesy: USDA.

BACKGROUND: Vilsack is a former two-term governor and state senator from Iowa. Another former Iowa legislator holds the record for most terms as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. James “Tama Jim” Wilson served four terms under three presidents. Read the history of the position here.  

Tang Renjian is Vilsack’s counterpart from China with a much longer title: People’s Republic of China Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.


The USDA said that this is the first meeting between the two countries’ agricultural leadership since 2015. That would mean there were no meetings held during former president Donald Trump’s time in office from 2017-2021.

BACKGROUND: Former president Donald Trump launched a trade war with China during his administration, which resulted in higher prices for some Chinese imports and reduced demand for various American exports to China, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. President Joe Biden has kept some of the tariffs on imports from China. Read that 2023 report here. 

Tang Renjian
People’s Republic of China Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs Tang Renjian. Image courtesy: YouTube video

It will likely be months before we know how much progress, if any, will result from Vilsack’s meeting with the Chinese leader. There could be much to discuss between the two nations.

Concerns about Chinese ownership of American farmland have surged over the past two years with several dozen states instituting bans. That has raised questions about what the American courts will decide about some of those restrictions.

China is a key trade partner for the United States. Figures from the Office of the United States Trade Representative (2022) demonstrate the importance:

  • U.S. exports to China: $154 billion (+1.7% from 2021).

  • Chinese exports to the United States: $536.3 billion (+6.3% from 2021).

Those figures show the significant imbalance between the two countries. However, the gap has shrunk over the past decade.

  • U.S. exports to China since 2012: +39%.

  • Chinese exports to the United States since 2012: +26%.

Vilsack’s office released this statement on the meeting between the two countries’ leaders in Washington, D.C.:

“Today I hosted a meeting with my counterpart from the People’s Republic of China Minister of Agriculture and Rural Affairs Tang Renjian. In addition to addressing outstanding market access issues and other U.S. agricultural stakeholder concerns, we discussed approaches to tackling climate and food security challenges. I emphasized the importance of an enabling environment for innovative technologies and practices to ensure productive and sustainable agriculture systems and to facilitate trade.


I look forward to further exchanges and cooperation as we continue to forge a relationship that expands and improves market access opportunities for U.S. farmers and ranchers in China, an important agricultural export market.”


American Farmland Owner Hayfields mountains


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