May 21, 2018

The U.S.-China Agricultural Trade Forum

Dennis Wilder moderates a panel during the U.S.-China Trade Forum.

On May 21, 2018, prominent business leaders, academics, and government officials from the United States and China gathered at the Georgetown McDonough School of Business for the U.S.-China Agricultural Trade Forum. The event was sponsored by the Walmart Food Safety Collaboration Center and the U.S.-China Agriculture and Food Partnership (AFP) and hosted by Georgetown University’s Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues.


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A series of panels explored technological innovations for food safety, opportunities for public-private cooperation, and U.S.-China agricultural production and trade. The forum provided an example of positive dialogue at a moment of increased trade tensions between both countries.

“Here we have a deep commitment to try to understand at ever deeper levels the kinds of challenges that are defining our world today,” said President John J. DeGioia, who introduced the forum. “This commitment to dialogue and exchange has provided the foundation for our engagement globally, and particularly for the work of our Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue.”

“Maintaining a healthy trade and effective collaboration in food between the world's two largest economies is critical to the well-being of consumers in both countries, and I think it's fair to say consumers all around the world,” added Dan Bryant, senior vice president of global public policy at Walmart Inc.

Trends in China

China is a key stakeholder in global food safety and security, and in recent years has taken steps to improve its laws and practices across its agricultural supply chain.

“Within the last ten years, the Chinese government has strengthened legislation and enforcement, especially the update of the China food safety law,” said Chen Junshi, senior research professor at the China National Center for Food Safety Risk Assessment, in his keynote address.

Despite improvements to legislation and more ambitious commercial goals, the agricultural sector in China still struggles to keep up with consumer demand.

“Consumers now have more money in their pocket. They have all the reasons to say, ‘I need quality and safety,’” said Junshi.

Collaborative Efforts

A prominent theme throughout the discussion was how best to leverage academic research, technological innovations, and public-private partnerships to improve food safety and deepen economic ties.

“Collaboration is really key here to actually get the right data, to make the right decisions, and be able to more proactively manage risk,” said Retsef Levi, J. Spencer Standish professor of operations management at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

“Aligning efforts between every part of the supply chain, between the sectors public, private, NGO, academia…is really what it requires for us to actually see improvements in food security, food safety, agricultural sustainability,” said AFP Executive Director Jennifer Lee.

Bilateral Relationship

China and the United States are two of the largest agricultural producers and traders in the world, and their bilateral relationship has global implications.

“We’re assessing some of the key aspects of the relationship that are problematic, be that IPR infringement, tech transfer, or other issues that have created trade imbalances, and we really support efforts to address those issues,” said Lorainne Hawley, director of international affairs at Archer Daniels Midland, a global agribusiness serving 170 countries. “Market access barriers, investment restrictions—all of those things have been preventing us from participating as fully as possible in the Chinese economy.”

During a conversation with senior Democratic and Republican U.S. Congressional staff, Jason Thielman, chief of staff for Senator Steve Daines (R-MT), described the importance of raising awareness among members of Congress about U.S.-China agricultural trade. 

“Of all the issues that face a member of Congress in the tyranny of urgent that we live in on the Hill, [U.S.-China trade] is one that people have not given enough attention and thought to,” Thielman said.