Clinton pushes China trade to farmers

President hopes to get more votes in Congress with agriculture backing

May 13, 2000|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

SHAKOPEE, Minn. - Surrounded by hay bales and grain bins, President Clinton tried to increase American farmers' enthusiasm for more trade with China yesteday, hoping that will produce more votes in Congress."There's no way Chinese farmers can keep pace with the growth of their own consumers - but America's farmers can," Clinton told several hundred farmers gathered at a Minnesota grain farm. "And Congress can give you the chance to do so, but only if it votes for permanent normal trade relations."

Most farmers seem to agree. While granting permanent trade status for China has been controversial in many quarters, including Congress, it is broadly popular in farm country.

One-third of America's agricultural products are already exported, and farm groups are eager for greater access to the 1.3 billion mouths in the world's most populated country."This is a must; there's no question about it," said Don Nickel, a Minnesota corn and soybean farmer."This is one of the most important things that could happen for agriculture in the next 20 years."

The Agriculture Department estimates that U.S. farm exports to China could grow by $2 billion annually within five years.

This is a particularly hopeful prospect for farmers who have been hammered by low grain prices and tough times, especially since Asia's economic downturn in 1997.

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