Media Releases, Legislative News, Agricultural Updates
Dave Carter, President of Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, along with National Farmers Union representatives Leland Swenson, President; Tom Buis, Vice President of Government Relations; Dave Velde, General Counsel; and, Robert Carlson, President of N.D. Farmers Union, represented the U.S. independent agricultural producer in Japan and China from October 9-21, 2000. The purpose of the trip was to strengthen farm organization ties and to investigate export opportunities for U.S. agricultural products.
Carter transmitted regular e-mail/photo updates as able. Photos can be found by clicking NEWS at the bottom of this page and then STORIES. E-mail from Asia was published below as it arrived:
FIRST E-MAIL – October 10, 2000
No matter how far from home you travel, you cannot escape American fast food. Take Taco Bell, for example.
Even in Tokyo – home of sushi, sake and soy sauce – Taco Bell seems to be the big topic among agricultural policymakers. Well, not Taco Bell specifically, but the Genetically Modified (GM) corn products that were recently detected in a line of Taco Bell taco shells. The illegal GM corn detected in the taco shells that were being sold in American grocery stores is causing shock waves that are washing up on the shore of Tokyo Bay.
That was one of the first issues greeting our delegation as we arrived in Tokyo this week to participate in the 100th anniversary conference of Japan’s largest family farmer organization.
Our trip to Japan came at the invitation of JA-Zenchu, which is also known as the Central Union of Agricultural Co-operatives. JA-Zenchu is a combination of an agricultural advocacy organization and a large input/marketing cooperative. According to the group’s website, “JA-Zenchu’s most fundamental role is to protect farming activities and the lives of member farmers.” To support this role, JA-Zenchu implements many integrated operations including:
•marketing crops produced by members;
•purchasing such production materials as fertilizers, agricultural chemicals and feed;
•lending funds for farming;
•managing members’ assets; and,
•providing technical guidance to enhance productivity.
Prior to our initial meeting with JA-Zenchu Tuesday, Michael Woolsey and Casey Bean, both Senior Agricultural Attachés for the U.S. Embassy in Japan, briefed us on the topics likely to be discussed during the next three days. That is where the Taco Bell shells came up.
They acknowledged that the fallout from the Taco Bell story threatens future agricultural trade here. StarLink is the trade name for the GM variety of corn that was detected in the taco shells.
“The United States could lose as much as four million tons of corn exports because of the concerns with StarLink,” Woolsey told the NFU delegation.
The United States had approved Starlink for use in animal feed, but had prohibited its use in food products because of concerns over potential allergens. Woolsey noted that the Japanese have prohibited the use of StarLink in both animal feed and food products.
“There are now reports that StarLink has been detected in a couple of batches of pet food products here in Japan,” Woolsey said.
A mandatory food safety assessment program scheduled for implementation in Japan on April 1, 2001 is intended to detect the presence of any GM products. According to Woolsey, any grain shipment found to contain the presence of prohibited GM material would be automatically rejected.
The GM corn controversy potentially complicates negotiations between Japan and the United States concerning standardization of organic standards. According to Woolsey, Japan’s recently implemented federal organic standards are similar – but less stringent – than those now pending adoption in the United States.
Of note, however, is that the Japanese specify that any organic products imported from the United States must be approved by a third-party certification agency headquartered in Japan. U.S. negotiators are working to develop an accord under which American organic producers may continue to utilize their existing accredited certifying agencies for any product targeted for export to Japan.
Our delegation reacted sharply, though, when the U.S. briefing team urged that we push JA-Zenchu to support greater trade liberalization policies.
“We need to recognize that international trade policies based upon the lowest-common denominator will not benefit family farmers in the United States, or in Japan,” said NFU President Lee Swenson.
SECOND E-MAIL – October 11, 2000
Agricultural producers share a strong common bond regardless of whether they farm more than a thousand acres on the American high plains, or cultivate a small parcel of rice on the outskirts of Tokyo.
The common bonds were highlighted during a formal banquet in Tokyo honoring the participation of the National Farmers Union (NFU) officials in the 100th Anniversary Congress of Japan’s primary agricultural organization.
Mutsutami Harada, President of JA-Zenchu, the Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives, welcomed the NFU delegation by noting the longstanding working relationship among family farmers on both sides of the Pacific. Because of that relationship, JA-Zenchu invited NFU President Leland Swenson to address the gathering.
At first glance, the United States and Japan could not be more different. More than 120 million people live in Japan, a country roughly the size of California. Japan, by all standards is an urban society, with cities so large and crowded that salaried “pushers” literally shove people into packed subway cars during rush hour.
Yet, Japan’s farming population today outnumbers the agricultural producers in the United States. The average Japanese farm is 127 times smaller than its American counterpart, while the value of agricultural real estate is 48 percent higher than the average American farmland.
Still, roughly 2.4 million farms continue to produce food and fiber in Japan, compared to less than 2 million producers recorded in the United States during the last census. Leaders of JA-Zenchu acknowledge that most Japanese agricultural producers rely on off-farm income for a major share of the family income. So, what is the difference with a U.S. agricultural population that relies on off-farm jobs for roughly 80 percent of their total income?
Agriculture continues to survive in urbanized Japan because the Japanese people have adopted a farm policy to keep family farmers on the land. The quilt work of postage stamp acreages surrounding the major metropolitan areas serves as testimony to the national commitment to family agriculture.
They actively support their family farmers, in large part because of national security concerns. Japanese farmers supply 42 percent of the nation’s domestic agricultural needs and the population understands that they are vulnerable to food embargos.
The Japanese approach to agricultural policy is wrapped up in the term “multifunctionality.” That term describes the array of benefits farmers and ranchers provide to the general population: food security, open space, clean air, wildlife habitat, and other attributes.
The Japanese society is apparently willing to foot the bill for these attributes. American society, so far, is not. Or, at the very least, agricultural policy refuses to test American consumers’ willingness to do so.
THIRD E-MAIL – October 12, 2000
“Agriculture is history engraved upon the land.”
Professor Masahiko Shiraishi
In remarks to the International Agricultural Forum hosted by JA Zenchu
(ON A TRAIN SOMEWHERE NORTH OF TOKYO): The postage stamp rice fields slipping by the train window would hardly provide enough space to park an American-style combine. But make no mistake about it…these are legitimate farms operated by legitimate farmers.
In the United States, we talk about food in terms of national security. In Japan, the people truly understand that food is national security. The global conflict that made mortal enemies of Japanese and Americans 55 years ago has given way to an era in which the farmers tilling the tiny plots of rice in the Japanese countryside are among the strongest allies of the American high plains wheat farmer struggling to stay solvent.
Professor Masahiko Shiraishi explained to the International Agricultural Forum hosted by JA Zenchu, “America is built on space. But agriculture in Europe and Japan is built on time. In our nation, agriculture is history engraved upon the land.” That history has provided an important lesson in maintaining a viable agricultural system based upon a dispersed landscape of family farmers and ranchers. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori stressed the importance of food security as he addressed the opening session of the agricultural forum. Nearly 4,000 farmers were on hand to hear the Prime Minister urge them to continue to expand the agricultural output from the tiny fields tucked in and around the cities and mountains of this nation.
The nation’s Minister of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries, Yoichi Tani echoed his comments.
Two days’ earlier, however, officials of the American Embassy briefing the Farmers Union delegation on trade policy, urged the American representatives to “press for continued trade liberalization” with Japan which is often detrimental to the small, independent agricultural producer.
The American government and the major transnational trading industry supply a constant flood of information to our trading partners attempting to paint the United States as wholly supportive of the current trade policies and the trend to liberalize the policies further. The participation by the Farmers Union representatives in the meetings this week provided a refreshing counterbalance for the Japanese and European agricultural leaders who are pushing for new global trade policies crafted around the concept of multifunctionality which describes the array of benefits farmers and ranchers provide to the general population: food security, open space, clean air, wildlife habitat, and other attributes.
Representatives of independent agricultural producers around the world must unite their efforts to redirect the headlong rush toward free trade that is now destroying rural communities and threatening the food security of many developing nations. Independent producers must make their voices heard over the continuing official drumbeat of free trade. It is obvious that the transnational companies profiting from trade liberalization are not going to represent the interests of family farmers around the world. National Farmers Union President Leland Swenson explained the growing support for multifunctional trade policies among American producers, as he participated in a panel discussion of the Forum conducted immediately prior to the JA Zenchu Congress.
“Unless the exporting countries begin to manage their supplies, we will never raise the incomes of family farmers in the developing nations,” Swenson told the International Agricultural Forum. Agricultural representatives participating from Japan, the European Union, South Korea and India echoed Swenson’s concerns.
Marcus Bjorgstrom of Finland, the European Union representative noted, “The base of multifunctionality is sustainable agriculture. That means that we do not abuse the farm, that we do not abuse the land, and that we do not abuse the farm family.”
Those benefits are often ignored by international policies that seek to drive agricultural commodity prices downward.
Dr. Ir Sutrisno Twantono of Indonesia noted, “If we open our market to totally free trade, the prices will drop and we will no longer be able to produce much of the food we need to feed ourselves.”
Much of the worlds domestic and international trade policy is built around the faulty notion that large farms are the most efficient, according to panelist Dr. Shinji Hattori of Tokyo University in Japan. “When we talk about making farms more productive, we also talk about making them larger. But this is not always the case.” He added that the consuming public is driving the issues of environmental protection and humane animal treatment practices. “It is not just about raising crops and animals, it is about building a relationship with consumers.”
(It is now October 16 and no further e-mail has arrived. Word is Carter is getting busy signals on the local servers now that he is in China. We’ll keep checking though as he is on the move and may find a server that’s not so busy.)
FOURTH E-MAIL – October 18, 2000
It seemed almost a typical U.S. Department of Agriculture briefing:
Despite a government land conservation program and the impact of a sustained drought, family farmers were suffering financial hardship because surplus agricultural production had driven commodity prices below the cost of production.
This briefing, however, came from the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture.
An official governmental briefing on Chinese agriculture was the first stop this week.
The image of a starving China seems indelibly etched upon the typical American’s view of this nation of 1.5 billion people. American schoolchildren in the aftermath of World War II saved pennies to help feed the starving children of China. After Mao Zedong brought the communist government to power, the Great Leap Forward in the 1950’s and the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s caused widespread starvation and death across the Chinese countryside.
But the reforms that began with Deng Xiaoping in 1976 dramatically changed the picture.
“Our successive big harvests of wheat has changed the situation for us,” said Wu Hongyao, of the Agriculture Ministry’s Department of Crop Production. “We imported grain for a long time. Now, we are becoming self-sufficient.”
The official government estimates are no doubt optimistic, but China claims to have produced more than 400 million tons of grain in 1999. This year’s drought plagued crop is still estimated at 490 million tons.
The challenges facing modern Chinese government officials is to develop the storage facilities and distribution system sufficient to handle increasing grain production. An official “white paper” released by the government this week acknowledged that the large crops will make it difficult to secure a targeted four percent increase in farmers’ incomes this year.
The white paper acknowledges, as reported in the English-language China Daily News, “The price of farm produce would continue to stay deplorably low this year, and township and village run businesses, plagued with fund shortages and a feeble marked demand, could not play a robust role as they once did in absorbing surplus rural labour and increasing farmers’ income.”
In their briefing for the Farmers Union delegation, Wu Hongyao and livestock specialist Chen Weisheng said that China has achieved 95 percent food self-sufficiency. A shortage of arable land and irrigation water that limit the ability of China to increase its agricultural base is being more than offset by the increasing per-hectare output of the average Chinese producer. In western China, a land restoration program similar to the Conservation Reserve Program is transferring marginal croplands back into grasslands and forestry.
And, like their American counterparts, Chinese agricultural officials are looking to the export market to soak up the excess production.
Wu mentioned that China’s anticipated entry into the World Trade Organization might create additional pressure for the nation to make its export commodities competive in the world marketplace.
“Chinese labor is quite cheap, so the Chinese people can use labor to make the necessary adjustments for the WTO,” Wu said.
American trade officials who have been promising the panacea of new export markets for Rocky Mountain area independent producers may have their work cut out for them in the years ahead. Ships pulling into Shanghai harbor waiting to offload American grain may have to wait at sea until the elevators finish loading Chinese ships heading into the world marketplace.
FIFTH E-MAIL – October 19, 2000
China today exists as a country of inconceivable contradiction. The world’s last major remaining communist government survives by welcoming unbridled capitalism. Major corporations and small entrepreneurial start-ups thrive within a system in which a 50-year old regime continues to control much of the official workings of the system.
The modern version of a communist five-year plan includes major investments into China by the world’s large corporations.
Nowhere were the contradictory views of China more apparent than in the span of two meetings held in Beijing this week.
The official governmental briefing was conducted in the decaying Soviet-style Ministry of Agriculture. We were led down dark, olive green hallways with worn linoleum to a meet with the ministry officials who would brief us on the official crop and livestock production situation in China.
A couple hours later, we pulled up in front of one of Beijing’s newest office buildings to meet with the entrepreneurs of FarmChina.com, a start-up Internet company designed to link agricultural businesses with the food marketplace in China. The bright, cheery offices of FarmChina.com were filled with mostly young employees updating the company’s website with the latest in China ag market information.
According to Christina Zhang, the Chief Operation Officer for FarmChina.com, the four-month-old company is positioning itself to assist agricultural exporters around the world in establishing a relationship with China’s 1.5 billion consumers.
“We are a one-stop shopping for the trade. We help provide assistance with certification, credit reports, and transportation,” Christina explained.
Shushan We, the company’s Chief Executive Officer, noted that the internet service is also linking Chinese exporters with markets in the outside world. “We are the purchasing and selling agencies for many of the agricultural companies in China. We have agreements for over 30 companies in China,” she said.
Timely information is key to establishing any type of trade arrangements in the export marketplace. But penetrating markets in China is complicated by nearly incomprehensible regulatory and certification procedures imposed by the government. Companies such as Cargill are well skilled in navigating through the perilous bureaucratic maze. Small producer-owned cooperatives are not.
Companies such as FarmChina.com may help level the playing field by providing timely market information, as well as assistance in fulfilling all of the regulatory requirements.
Much of the emerging demand for specialty food in China may arise not so much from the nation’s native population, but from a new wave of emigrants staffing the commercial enterprises in cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.
Mandarin Foods, a Beijing-based company that supplies hotels, restaurants and supermarkets in China, boasts a wide array of specialty products from around the world. Their showroom is filled with olive oil from Italy, cookies from Australia, and Mexican food from the United States.
Eve Zhang, marketing director for Mandarin Foods, told the Farmers Union delegation, “The expatriated families coming to China are bringing their taste preferences with them. We are getting a lot of requests for new products.”
Mandarin Foods began as a private venture in 1995 with the distribution rights to a brand of caviar. Over the past five years, the company has grown into a thriving venture offering a full line of specialty products.
The meetings this week with companies such as FarmChina.com and Mandarin Foods have established valuable new contacts for the Farmers Union as the organization works to develop new marketing channels for independent producers and their cooperatives.
SIXTH E-MAIL – October 20, 2000
A lump of coal.
Generations of parents used that threat to enforce discipline on American children in the weeks preceding Christmas each year. In much of the world, the gift of a lump of coal represents a reason to rejoice.
It happened this week on a rural road in the Shandong Province of eastern China.
While touring the rural countryside of northeastern China, the four other Farmers Union leaders and me had asked our driver to stop so that we could check out harvests of corn and soybeans spread out to dry along the roadway. It was a sight we had seen all morning long: small quantities of corn and soybeans spread along the dirt road to dry in the autumn sun.
Before long a local farmer, munching on a fresh piece of fruit, walked out of his small home to check up on these strange foreigners who were poking around his harvest. He was a typical Chinese peasant, a 40ish looking man with a friendly expression that showed a life spent far beyond the reach of any dental care. We struck up a conversation with the farmer with the assistance of our guide and translator, Xander Kameny of the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Before long, North Dakota Farmers Union President Robert Carlson was showing the Shandong peasant farmer pictures of his family’s Bison, wheat and canola operation. Farmer to farmer, they began to share stories of crops and yields.
A large Soviet-style coal truck lurched past along the unpaved rural road and a lump fell from the bed. The local farmer immediately broke off his conversation with us to race out to retrieve the lump of coal for his family’s use in the upcoming cold months. Turning back toward us, the farmer raised the coal above his head with as much satisfaction as a heavyweight fighter hoisting the championship belt.
It is nearly impossible to describe rural China, or at least the small sliver we were able to see during our all-too-brief tours through the countryside. In our weeklong trip to China, we spent one day apiece traveling through the rural villages surrounding Qingdao in the north, and Shanghai further south. Two days were hardly sufficient to gather an accurate assessment of this nation’s agricultural culture, or of its potential.
Yet, the travels illuminated some revealing aspects about China’s agriculture.
The northern farms in the Shandong province outside of Qingdao represented more of the traditional style of Chinese agriculture, although our guide told us that these eastern farmers were much more progressive than their counterparts further west. One farmer we happened upon was waiting patiently for a neighbor to bring over a small tractor to sow his crop of winter wheat. His seed was contained in less than two bags. His wheat field was hardly larger that the average American farm family’s yard.
Yet, he talked proudly of his yield, his production practices, and the quality of his crop. He had never heard of the World Trade Organization. His world revolved around a small plot of ground that provided the sustenance for his family.
Outside of Shanghai, the world’s third largest city, the agricultural operations reflect the recent investment of capital instilled by the Chinese government and private businesses. The plots are larger, and the fields of rice are separated by smooth, paved roads. Large greenhouses are filled with crops of plants and vegetables, many of which are unidentifiable to the western mind.
Forget the image of the starving Chinese. This is a nation ready to become a major exporting player. Take hogs, for example.
The Chinese people eat a lot of pork…more than 106 lbs. per person per year. That is a lot of potential customers for American hog producers.
But the Chinese also produce a lot of pork. According to Chen Weishng, of the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture, China already accounts for 45 percent of the world’s pork production. Pork production in this country has been increasing by 10 percent per year. And, the Chinese producers haven’t even started to scratch the surface of the production increases that can be brought about by improved genetics, feeding and production practices.
But substantial changes are on the horizon.
Tucked away in a suburb of Shanghai, for example, is a hog farm comparable to any confinement facility in the United States. Zoning is not an issue here. This 800-sow facility is walled in by surrounding houses and commercial businesses. There isn’t a patch of bare dirt or an open lagoon to be found on this farm. With an abundance of labor at hand, this farm teems with workers who sweep the alleys, haul feed, and move the animals from pen to pen. Waste is immediately hauled by hand out to the surrounding fields, where it is used to fertilize the plots of rice and vegetables. At a market price of about 45 cents per pound, the manager of this farm claims to have about a $10 per head profit margin.
The market-ready hogs are hauled to a nearby slaughter facility, also located in the midst of a teeming residential and commercial district. Part of the facility is fully automated, with a chain that can efficiently move the hogs through a slaughter, bleeding, rinse and processing stations. That part of the facility, however, is rusting from non-use. The bustling part of the processing plant is a series of 16 small slaughter rooms laid out in alcoves along a central alley like cross bars on a telephone pole. Workers in each open air alcove slaughter and process 200 hogs each day, mostly with hand labor. The warm carcasses are loaded onto trucks in the central alley to be shipped directly to the markets throughout the city.
Chinese customers prefer hand-processed meat to any type of mechanical processing. With the cost of hand processing averaging about $5 per hog, the plant can afford to let the mechanical equipment rust.
I doubt the mechanical line will stay idle for long. The words “joint venture” are becoming a part of the common lingo for the managers of nearly every Chinese agricultural operation we visited during our tour. Chinese agricultural businesses are actively fishing for capital. That is the one missing element that is keeping this nation from becoming a major player on the world stage.
With 1.5 billion people, labor is not a problem. The thick clouds of haze that force many citizens to walk about in surgical masks illustrate that environmental protection is of little concern. With an infusion of capital, China is poised to become a major player in a global economic system that focuses on producing the most stuff at the cheapest cost.
That is one of the issues at hand as China petitions for full entry into the World Trade Organization. Agriculture production, processing and marketing is on the verge of exploding here. The trade rules developed, implemented and enforced through the WTO will determine in large part the manner in which Chinese agriculture develops. A system of rules that allows the large agribusiness corporations to move capital freely to countries with little regard to human rights, environmental protection or food safety will foster a new Chinese agricultural economy that resembles the tyranny of the ancient dynasties. If, however, the world community can develop and enforce standards of international commerce that recognize human rights, a healthy environment, and the importance of food safety, the small farmer outside of Qingdao and the family farmers in the Rocky Mountain region can both benefit from the prospects of a growing global marketplace.
SEVENTH AND FINAL MESSAGE (hand delivered) – October 23, 2000
SOMEWHERE OVER THE PACIFIC OCEAN: In the end, it’s all about farmers.
The whirlwind tour of Japan, China, and Hong Kong is over. Now comes the time to figure out what it all means.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) delegation met with key agricultural ministry officials from Japan, Mainland China and Hong Kong. We attended a major symposium and heard the Prime Minister of Japan. We chatted over coffee with U.S. Ambassador Tom Foley in his office in the American Embassy in Tokyo. We sat down with food distribution companies in Beijing and Shanghai. We toured a major food preparation facility in Hong Kong, and observed a state of the art cargo facility as cranes unloaded containers full of merchandise at the rate of one every two minutes. We walked through open-air markets where customers selected their cuts of meat from sides of pork and beef hung from poles; and, we toured other hypermarkets comparable to anything Sam Walton could imagine. We collected a wad of business cards thick enough to deal blackjack. We saw awe-inspiring scenery, and waded through crowds of humanity as thick as bees in a hive.
But in the end, it’s all about farmers.
It’s about a small peasant farmer in Sangong Province tending a plot of land he has held onto through the past 50 years of communist upheaval in China. It’s about the farmer from northern Japan struggling to maintain economic viability from the parcel of land held by his family since the time of the Shoguns. And it’s about the farmer from the American rural West trying to figure out how to survive in a world marketplace that is becoming entrenched in the concept of low-cost production.
The future of our agricultural relations with Japan and China remains largely a mystery. It’s no wonder. Pretending that a five-day trip through China makes anyone an expert on Chinese agriculture is like expecting a foreign visitor who sweeps through Washington, D.C., New York City, and some farm country around Kentucky and Ohio to know all about American agriculture. But in the quiet hours of a plane ride home over the Pacific, it’s time to start collecting thoughts.
Japanese agriculture was largely what I expected. After all, Farmers Union enjoys a longstanding relation with the family farmers of Japan through our involvement in the International Federation of Agricultural Producers.
China, however, was a real eye-opener. I doubt any amount of advance briefings could prepare a person for what we experienced on the Chinese mainland.
First of all, there are the people. They are everywhere. Yes, we all know that China has a population somewhere in the range of 1.5 billion people. On paper, it is just a number. To be in the middle of it is something entirely different. In Shanghai, an estimated 18 million people live and work in conditions ranging from luxury high-rise apartments to rows of squat houses. And Shanghai isn’t China’s largest city.
Even while touring the rural countryside outside of Qindao, we rarely lost site of other human beings. They tended fields, tilled gardens, hauled produce along the lanes in handcarts, or squatted in the shade to play various versions of cards and checkers.
And everywhere was a reminder of the Chinese concept of family. Stop and talk to a farmer: soon parents, grandparents and children would stroll up to see what was going on. All along the rural lanes, grandparents escorted small children from school, or watched over them at play.
Many Chinese peasants may be uneducated, but they certainly are not ignorant. The oldest among them have lived through Japanese domination, communist takeover, and the upheavals of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Yet, they continue to nurture a cornucopia of grains, soybeans and vegetables from plots that have been under continuous cultivation for more than 2,000 years.
The urban areas present a vastly different picture.
In what has to be one of the most incredible political contradictions in history, a new wave of buccaneer capitalists now reaps huge fortunes in the world’s largest remaining communist nation. They are bringing modern technology to every aspect of China’s economy, agriculture included. They are also bringing widespread corruption, prostitution, and crime. They are reshaping the face of China. High-rise apartment buildings soar above tangles of crowded houses no bigger than a tool shed. Gleaming Mercedes and BMWs careen along modern superhighways, weaving out of traffic jammed with bicycles, tiny cars and vans, and large buses packed sardine-like with commuters. Futuristic skyscrapers disappear into a thick blanket of soot that hangs over most of the nation’s industrial cities. Harbors swarm with ships loading cargo for the world’s distant ports.
The vast majority of the Chinese people continue to exist in an environment that is largely unchanged over the past half century. To call those living conditions squalid is a disservice. Most housing is certainly humble, and most could use a good coat of paint. But the homes and small businesses are clean…or at least as clean as can be when millions of people share space with only rudimentary water delivery, trash removal and sewage disposal.
Still, the soaring skyscrapers, the high-rise apartments, and the bustling export facilities signal that change is on the horizon. The Asian Tiger is about to be unleashed.
Certainly, China’s self-imposed isolation under Mao Zedong denied the Chinese citizenry the opportunity to enjoy the advances of the last half of the 20th Century. The reforms begun by Deng Xiaping in 1976 are changing everything.
China is already the world’s largest agricultural producer for many commodities. They raise 45 percent of the world’s pork, and are a major producer of poultry, eggs and wheat; not to mention things like eel, bok choy and bean curd. Chinese agricultural policy – like much of the rest of the world – now grapples with the problem of surplus production.
Most food in China is grown much the same as it was two hundred years ago, with rudimentary hoes and handcarts. This nation has run out of arable land, but it is only starting to recognize the productive potential of its existing land base.
All of this is pertinent as China prepares for full participation in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Final U.S. passage of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China cleared the way for the nation’s full participation in the WTO.
Many U.S. Commodity groups and agribusiness voices have trumpeted China as a vast potential sponge for profitably, soaking up American surpluses. Chinese agricultural officials we met with, however, are more interested in importing American dollars for joint venture projects than they are in importing raw commodities.
China already has the world’s largest supply of cheap labor. The massive infusion of foreign technology and capital is now equipping that nation to intensify its production of goods and services across the spectrum.
Our future trade balance with China may largely depend on the success or failure of that nation’s policy of encouraging one child per family. If that policy succeeds, China’s consumers will have additional money to spend on higher value food, but the nation as a whole is likely to become an overall competitor in the export arena. If that policy fails, the exploding population will soon outstrip China’s ability to produce food. There will be more hungry mouths to feed, but less money with which to purchase food.
Future relations will also depend upon the ability of China to maintain the paradox of unbridled capitalism in the midst of a communist regime. Something has to give, sometime, somewhere. The Tianaman Square situation in 1989 demonstrated the Chinese government’s willingness to quash an open challenge of the current political system. How long the communists can continue to rule over an emerging capitalist economy is anybody’s guess.
The new market economy seems destined to survive. Life for many Chinese citizens will be vastly different 10 years from now. Many of those changes will undoubtedly be welcomed. But let’s hope that the Chinese people don’t become so fixated on pursuing the new opportunities for financial wealth that they lose some of the essential qualities of their culture.
Let’s hope that 10 years from now grandparents are still escorting small children to school. Let’s hope that local villagers will have an opportunity to relax and play cards in the afternoon sun. Let’s hope that the family farmers still feel the sense of pride from the produce they nurture.
After all, it’s all about farmers.
NOTE: The date below indicates when the intial story was placed on the website. To see photos, click the NEWS button below, then the STORIES button.
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