Private sector initiative strives to realize benefits of U.S.-China trade partnershipsWritten by Natasha Wheeler
Fort Collins, Colo. – In July 2013, the U.S.-China Agriculture and Food Partnership (AFP) was established to coordinate between private and public sectors in the United States and China and to serve as a platform for dialogue and discussion about food and agricultural issues facing both countries.
Bill Westman, senior vice president of the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), remarks, “Our role in the policy is to facilitate opening markets to promote trade in meat and poultry products.”
Trade is the operative word, he adds, explaining that exports are only part of the equation.
“The AFP revolves around three themes – food safety, food security and sustainability. That is important because China is an excellent market for us for many products, but it’s still closed to the U.S. for beef. We are working with the governments to resolve the issues so we can officially send U.S. beef into China,” Westman explains.
The partnership is led by the private sector and includes the participation of many individual businesses and other organizations.
“We work with as many trade associations and meat culture groups as we can to come together and coordinate policy with government. We have a beef market access group with the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and we talk every week,” he says.
Similar efforts are also being made for pork, and NAMI has a food and agricultural export alliance to bring in dairies, soybeans and grains, as well. There is also some cooperation with poultry, although that industry faces additional challenges and tackles many issues through other organizations.
“We feel we can make a lot more progress on the beef issue if we work cooperatively with private sector there,” Westman notes. “China is an excellent market, but we feel we can work with them on many issues related to food safety and how to improve their operations. It’s like any developing market. Strong markets become good customers.”
Strong meat markets in China also create opportunities for related businesses, such as equipment manufacturers, processing and packaging plants, food safety businesses and more.
“We want to be able to compete fairly in the market because we think we can do very well there. We also get a lot of support from China because they understand that, as their system improves, they will also buy from us to supply a growing market. It’s a win-win situation,” Westman states.
To show that the benefits can be big for both countries, NAMI and AFP have been working with interested stakeholders to discuss concerns and issues in the market.
“We have to develop a relationship, and we have to show up. We’ve been doing that for the last five or six years by, for example, going to their shows, and it’s been only in the last year to year and a half that China has recognized that we’re there to work with them and we want what they want,” Westman continues.
One example of current efforts include conversations with China Agriculture University. The university is looking to train students in Beijing and then send them to the United States to learn more about how information is shared and how products are improved.
“It’s a really interesting project, and what’s more interesting is that they came to us about it – they asked for help,” he comments.
NAMI is also creating a Meat Buyer’s Guide for the Chinese market, with the language translated into both traditional and simplified Chinese characters.
“We are not planning to change the pictures or cut nomenclature or coding, but the China Meat Association has asked us to do this so they can better utilize the book when ordering and learning about what types of cuts are available,” he remarks.
Demand is high for offal overseas, which benefits American meat suppliers who don’t have a strong market for those items. If the Chinese could order those products from the United States, it could provide an advantage to both countries.
“They are already buying these items from other countries, so why couldn’t we get some of the business?” Westman asks. “We feel that we have the best system, the best products and the best genetics in the world.”
“The government officials in China say they are going to import beef to meet their domestic requirements, and we think, over the long term, it will be a very good market. We want to be able to compete,” he explains.
Westman also believes that there are misconceptions about food safety in China. After living there, shopping at the supermarkets, preparing meals at home eating in restaurants and speaking with ag and food industry representatives, he expresses similarities between the cultures.
“They want safe food. They want a stable food supply. They want a good future for their children,” he says.
Westman hopes that the AFP collaboration will bring common interests to light, so trade can operate successfully in the global marketplace, benefiting everyone.
“We are two of the most important countries in the world in producing agricultural products. We should be working together. That’s what this is all about,” he states.
Bill Westman spoke at the International Livestock Forum in Fort Collins, Colo. in early January.