WASHINGTON, D.C. — Last week was one of the “ best weeks in agriculture ever," according to Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau.
The United States and China signed a trade agreement and the Senate gave its approval to a new North American trade pact. Both trade deals are expected to reopen markets that had been closed to American farmers.
President Trump and Liu He, the vice premier of China, signed Phase One of the pact in a White House ceremony on Jan. 15.
The truce comes after an 18-month trade war that hit U.S. farmers particularly hard. Both countries slapped tariffs on each others products, and China slashed its purchases of U.S. agricultural goods.
The first portion of the trade deal was signed Jan. 15. In it, the U.S. has agreed to scale back tariffs on Chinese imports and Beijing has agreed to buy more U.S. products, among many other things.
Paap was in the White House’s East Room for the ceremonial signing.
"It was an honor and a privilege to be part of the group representing agriculture at a historic event like this," said Paap. "It's not often you have the opportunity to be in the room with the president and vice president."
Also in the room were senior advisers, senators, representatives and other business and industry leaders. Paap described it as a premier networking opportunity, with the chance to visit with not only members of the administration but with Sen. Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate ag committee.
But what was especially impressive to Paap was visiting with the delegation from China, who paid greater attention to him after they found out he was a farmer. They rattled off questions about what he farmed and where, and what it entailed.
'We need beans on boats'
The day belonged to the overall mission of reopening the trade pipleine.
"Farmers would say the downside of Phase One is that people wanted more exact numbers," said Paap of some of the vague language used in the deal.
But to Paap, the most important figures in the deal were "the Number One and Number Two biggest economies in the world working together, hopefully having a fair trade relationship."
China's massive population and its increasing consumption of U.S. products are important, said Paap. He said the country's growing middle-class is larger than the entire U.S. population.
"We know China is the world's largest pork consumer, and we know that a third of the world's soybeans are consumed by China," said Paap. "And 80 percent of those soybeans have to be imported."
Throughout the trade war were times when a truce seemed close, but could not be completed. Paap said that behind the scenes, it took 33 sessions with negotiators to get to the Phase One pact.
"That's why I was happy to have the chance to visit and personally thank some of the folks from the office of the United States trade representative," said Paap. "They've been working hard at this for months."
China has a history of backing out of commitments like the one signed last week, but Paap is hopeful that the next phase will be another step forward.
"Ultimately, as farmers, we really need to see beans on boats," said Paap. "We want to see the actually purchases, not necessarily just the order."
One day after Paap watched Trump sign the China deal, the Senate overwhelmingly approved a revised North American trade pact in a bipartisan vote. The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement replaces the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.
"Exports are such critical economic drivers in agriculture," said Paap. "We've gotta have them."