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Vilsack Talks Smack on China

U.S. ag exports are reaching new highs and simultaneously getting the side-eye as Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack contemplates the contentious relationship with China.

In totality, ag exports are projected to be up 21% to $164B in 2021, soaring above the USDA’s initial February forecast. Dairy, poultry, and livestock products lead the way in expected increases.

Some growth can also be credited to China and its record-breaking expected $35B in purchases. Nearly a fifth of U.S. ag exports are headed to China, and over-reliance on a singular country is on Secretary Vilsack’s mind.

A soundbite: “Obviously, we’re much better off without a trade war than we were in a trade war with China in terms of agriculture. But that’s a complicated relationship, and anything can disrupt it at any point in time. Which is why I think it is going to be important, at the appropriate time, for the administration to take a look at where there are new partnerships, new arrangements, new connections,” Vilsack said.

Easier said than done: Without Europe seeing eye-to-eye with the U.S. on sensitive production practices (read: GMO, growth stimulants, etc.), new trade arrangements are unlikely. Other opportunities may exist in Southeast Asia and Africa, as well as with the Trans-Pacific Partnership successor.

Where this goes: Vilsack notes he’s confident about the future of the relationship with China so long as it’s centered on trade. But the relationship is too complex to say if today’s trend will hold firm.