Last week was a momentous one for U.S.-China agricultural relations. In addition to the productive meetings that took place in Washington and Des Moines, I was honored to witness the signing of an agreement between the U.S. soybean industry and Chinese buyers who agreed to purchase more than 8.6 million metric tons of U.S. soybeans in the coming year. That’s about $4.3 billion worth of soybeans, or 317 million bushels.
The signing of that purchase agreement represents another very important milestone in the U.S.-China trade relationship, a relationship that continues to grow and flourish – in large part thanks to agricultural trade. Last fiscal year, for the first time ever, China was the number one market for U.S. food and agricultural exports. And it was also the top market, by far, for U.S. soybeans. In fact, China purchased nearly 60 percent of the U.S. soybeans sold internationally last year.
For many years, USDA has partnered with the U.S. soybean industry to facilitate trade through our international marketing programs in China and other countries worldwide. I’m proud that we continue to provide support and funding to help link buyers and suppliers, to provide technical assistance, and to share information on sustainable production practices and food safety standards. I’m also proud that, with USDA support, the U.S. soybean industry will be holding a variety of conferences, seminars and workshops focusing on the feed, aquaculture, swine and poultry sectors in China over the coming months.
As a soybean farmer myself, I am especially proud that China continues to look to the United States as a reliable supplier of high-quality soybeans and other products. As I assured our Chinese customers last week, the United States remains firmly committed to being their supplier of choice.
Overall, the American brand of agriculture continues to surge in popularity worldwide. Farm exports in fiscal year 2011 reached a record high of $137.4 billion—exceeding past highs by $22.5 billion—and supported 1.15 million jobs here at home. The agricultural trade surplus stands at a record $42.7 billion.