Daines and Chinese Ambassador Trade

In this Chronicle file photo, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, center, introduces Cui TianKai, China ambassador to the United States, left, to Fred Wacker, vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, far right, on Friday at the Morgan Ranch House. Daines said Thursday that America is “negotiating from a position of strength” when it comes to trade deals with other countries.

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About two months after China lifted its 14 year ban on American beef imports, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines hosted Cui TianKai, China ambassador to the U.S., on Friday at the Morgan Ranch House to discuss future opportunities for economic growth and trade for Montana farmers and ranchers.

The meeting included about a dozen Chinese officials, agricultural producers from the state and members of the Montana Farm Bureau, Montana Grain Growers and Montana Stockgrowers.

Daines joked several times about hand-delivering Montana steaks in April to Li Keqiang, the premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China. He said those steaks were from Wacker Ranch, and Fred Wacker, vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, was at the meeting.

Daines said the first 16 tons of American beef were delivered to China on Sept. 1 after 14 years.

“We’re grateful to work together in cooperating and resolving our respective issues that we now have U.S. beef in China — the second largest beef import market,” Daines said.

TianKai reminisced of his time on a farm in China while sitting in the backyard of the ranch’s house and hearing the moos of nearby cows. He said the trip was important for him to visit with real Americans outside of Washington, D.C.

“I believe that this kind of mutual understanding between the ordinary folks, in America and in China, and that mutual understanding — the friendship — this is the real foundation of the relations between our two great countries,” TianKai said.

The rest of the delegation expressed their gratitude for importing U.S. beef to China. They said American beef is highly thought of in the country, and provided examples of when American beef is eaten — like weddings, dates and other momentous achievements in life.

Zhu Hong, minister for economic and commercial affairs, recognized the high demand for beef in China. But, he said, American beef is not selling that well in the China market because of high prices.

“But I do believe that in the next five years the American beef is going to have a huge market,” Hong said.

Wacker said it costs about $80 a head to send cattle to a processing plant in the Midwest, and then he has to pay for shipping to send the beef to China. He said he would like to build a world-class processing plant in Montana, but China hasn’t established a market for U.S. beef — yet. He asked the delegation if they would be interested in partnering to build a first-class processing plant in the U.S.

American beef, Hong said, would need some marketing to be competitive in China after being absent for the past 14 years. He said there should be a period of educating consumers on the beef.

“You have to let more and more people know about the American high-quality beef, Montana high-quality beef,” Hong said. “You have to have more promotion.”

Wacker proposed a couple of ideas, including a taste-test tour in China. State organizations also took advantage of the trade discussion, and asked if the country was interested in trading other commodities like wheat, barley and sweet peas.

TianKi hailed Daines, and called him China’s ambassador in Congress. Daines said the friendship with China is greatly appreciated.

“As they say in China, ‘A thousand mile journey begins with the first step,’” Daines said. “We’ve taken some huge steps here with the removal of the ban on U.S. beef and imports.”

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Freddy Monares can be reached at 406-582-2630, or by email at fmonares@dailychronicle.com.

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