On March 2, AmCham China Chairman Colm Rafferty, delivered a speech at the 2023 International Agricultural Market and Trade Forum’s Spring Meeting in Beijing. Rafferty’s remarks centered on critical issues, such as global food security, the current state of agricultural product trade, and supply chain security.
Alongside Rafferty, other speakers at the forum included Sui Pengfei, Director-General of the International Cooperation Department of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs; Wang Yi, Vice President of Renmin University; and Cheng Chun from the Foreign Trade Department of the Ministry of Commerce. Read on for a transcript of his full remarks from the Forum.
Good afternoon. My name is Colm Rafferty, and I’m the Chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. I would like to thank Renmin University of China, Agricultural Trade Promotion Center of Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, and Center of International Cooperation Service of Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs for hosting this event. I appreciate this timely opportunity to speak at the 2023 Global Agricultural Market and Trade Forum – Spring Meeting, as an opportunity to share thoughts and exchange perspectives from the American business community on the promotion of international agricultural trade cooperation.
It is a critical moment for us to have the chance to share perspectives on ways to strengthen the resilience of global supply chains and promote international industrial cooperation. Before sharing my observations and thoughts, please allow me to briefly introduce AmCham China.
The American Chamber of Commerce in China (AmCham China) was founded in Beijing over 100 years ago, as a non-profit non-governmental organization representing American business in China. Today, we have nearly 1,000 member companies, who collectively have millions of employees throughout China.
AmCham China has long been an advocate for a stable and balanced US- China trade relationship, and we seek to be a bridge for constructive commercial engagement between both countries. The US-China relationship has a direct and profound impact on global peace and prosperity, and our member companies believe that American business in China benefits both the United States and Chinese economies.
The Chamber’s mission is to help American companies succeed in China through advocacy, information, networking, and business support services. In addition to our headquarters here in Beijing, we have Chapters in Tianjin, Shenyang, Dalian, and Wuhan and are also active in other parts of the country. Across these 5 offices, AmCham China has more than 30 working groups, and organizes more than 200 events each year.
In 2022, according to the US Department of Commerce, two way trade between the United States and China reached over $690 billion, with $154 billion of US exports to China. Agriculture is a key area of collaboration between the United States and China. In 2022, US farmers exported over $40 billion in agricultural products to China, the largest export market for American farmers. In addition, over the past few decades, our world-class US agricultural equipment manufacturers have made significant investments in developing China R&D and local manufacturing capabilities, in order to support the development of the domestic agriculture industry, making a constructive contribution to rural revitalization.
Each year, AmCham China has countless meetings with senior Chinese government officials. We also have regular dialogue with senior members of the US administration in Washington. As such, we truly believe we are a commercial bridge between the two countries, especially during these challenging times when there is less government-to-government dialogue.
Last year, AmCham China and our member companies held many senior-level engagement meetings with Chinese officials, including Premier Li Keqiang and select members of the State Council about China’s business environment and the unique challenges faced by US companies, as well as meetings with senior leadership of other key Chinese agencies. On the U.S. government side, we also maintained regular dialogue with senior members of the U.S. administration in Washington and the U.S Embassy in Beijing.
As an example, two weeks ago AmCham China hosted our 22nd annual Government Appreciation Dinner in Beijing. For this dinner, over 150 senior representatives from both the US and Chinese governments gathered together with our business community to highlight the importance of the American business community to the bilateral relationship. CPPCC National Committee Vice Chairperson Wan Gang and US Ambassador to China Nicholas Burns both attended the dinner and delivered keynote speeches. Wan Gang pointed out the bilateral trade relationship is, at its core, “mutually beneficial and centered on cooperation”, noting that its opportunities outweigh its challenges, and he encouraged AmCham China and its member companies to continue deepening pragmatic cooperation between the US and China with the aim of bringing the US-China relationship back to the direction of healthy and stable development.
History is full of examples of great things being achieved as a result of cooperation amongst people towards a common cause. As an example, in 2020, at the earliest stage of the COVID pandemic, AmCham China member companies donated more than 600 million RMB value of cash and goods to support China’s domestic epidemic control efforts and supported governments and communities around the globe. Chinese companies also provided Americans with much needed PPE, savings countless lives.
Supply chain issues and related concerns are not new for our member companies, but the pandemic presented the most serious challenge yet to supply chain stability. Disruptions to supply chains and business operations started in 2018 as bilateral tensions rose, and then worsened due to pandemic related restrictions. Additionally, the reorganization of global supply chains and business operations has become more political, with pressure to “take a side” from factions in both the US and China, with the Chinese government and the US government being major sources of this pressure, according to our most recent annual membership survey result released this week.
Despite all the challenges, however, China remains an important investment destination and a majority of our member companies plan take a long term perspective to the development of their business in China.
AmCham China member companies are key partners when it comes to supporting China’s food security and rural development and revitalization goals. Over decades, our member companies have been investing in production for the Chinese domestic market from farm to table – whether in seed production, crop protection, agriculture machinery, or the processing and trading of agri-food products. Our companies’ best practices, technological and digital know-how, and ability to import goods and services with few barriers all contribute greatly to China’s food security and the development of a climate-smart and modern agriculture ecosystem in China.
One of the most effective strategies to increase the resilience of the global agricultural supply chain is by investing in infrastructure and technology that can help reduce the risks of disruption, as well as by promoting the use of sustainable agricultural practices.
Our member companies seek further opportunities for foreign investment in the areas of seed production and biotech, further reform in simplifying approval procedures across the agricultural supply chain, and the reduction in import trade tariffs and barriers for those products which are key to support the development of China’s agriculture sector and rural revitalization. In the past, AmCham China and our member companies have appreciated strong support from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and other relevant departments to hold dialogues on these topics. Conversations, like the ones held here today, can help to provide the foreign business community in China with a roadmap to understanding how we can continue to invest and constructively contribute to China’s economic development.
For example, 2022 No.1 Central Document requires the development of smart agriculture and the integrated application of information technology and agricultural machinery. To achieve this goal, organizing digital technology training for farmers, delivering rural public services using digital technology, and extending the implementation of the “Internet Plus” national strategy to cover rural areas is vital. It’s important to get into the local communities to solve existing problems and make use of agricultural and rural big data, accelerate the development of a “digital countryside”, pilot digital countryside projects, and strengthen the construction of rural information infrastructure. AmCham China member companies look forward to applying technology, experience, capacity building and other areas to support implementing these kinds of projects.
It is also essential to promote the use of innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain technology to help increase supply-chain resilience. AI can be used to analyze data and make decisions about the supply chain, while blockchain technology can be used to track goods and ensure their authenticity. These technologies can help to reduce the risk of disruption, as well as to improve the efficiency of the supply chain. For example, with the help of the blockchain, our member company IBM supports farmers, cooperatives, exporters & importers, distributors, retailers, and other stakeholders in the coffee industry to share information. Qualcomm, in collaboration with the China Foundation for Rural Development, implemented a “Smart Agriculture” program in several provinces to enable farmers to have a precise and standardized management of agricultural production process, increasing their production efficiency and incomes. Starbucks also introduced “Smart Agriculture” to the third phase of their Yunnan Program, which launched in December 2020, in which a number of digital, information, and technological methods were introduced. It helped farmers adopt more efficient, accurate, and environmental-friendly planting methods, mitigating risk from unpredictable weather conditions. Those are just a few examples from what our member companies are doing on the ground here in China.
Global climate change is also likely to have a major impact on global food supply chains and food security, as extreme weather events are likely to occur more frequently in the coming years. This could lead to significant volatility in the global agricultural market, as production levels and availability of products could be significantly impacted by the changing climate. AmCham China companies also provide climate-smart technologies and practices that help ensure well-adapted crops and varieties, pest management, improved water use, sustainable mechanization, and soil and land management, that helps China achieve both food security and low carbon goals.
Each year, AmCham China releases the American Business in China White Paper to comprehensively assess the business environment in China, to provide constructive recommendations to the Chinese and US governments, and to promote bilateral economic and trade relations. The White Paper is written by our member companies and provides an accurate and nuanced view of their experiences on the ground in China. At a national level, White Paper delivery meetings have become a regular communication mechanism between American business community and the two governments. At a local level, regular visits between the Chamber and local governments to discuss the White Paper, not only helps to nurture mutual understanding but also provides an opportunity to share policy recommendations that are intended to be constructive and helpful in improving the business environment, including in Agriculture related commercial collaboration.
The challenge on global food security and sustainable agriculture are too huge for any single country or organization to tackle. International collaboration and cross border investment are becoming increasingly important. Countries which embrace a more open and collaborative policy and science-based regulations attract international investment, which brings tremendous value to their agriculture, environment and global competitiveness.
The year marks the 45th anniversary of China’s reforms and opening-up. The world has seen the incredible progress and development of China. China’s own example has shown, and we have also repeatedly seen around the world that nations which have an open policy towards cross-border investment, enable their farmers to access new technologies faster, increase farm productivity, raise farmers’ income, improve farmers’ life, and increase their global competitiveness. We expect China to continue its reform policy to further open-up for investment in agriculture, especially in the areas of seed industry, biotechnology, digital farming, and agricultural commodities processing. AmCham and its member companies stand ready to discuss and cooperate further with the Chinese government to bring in our innovations and know-how in the most appropriate manner to benefit Chinese farmers and consumers.
American companies have played an integral part in China’s economic rise and are able to contribute more to the development of agriculture sector and food security in China. We believe that open and predictable markets are the best environment to foster greater success and stronger ties between China and the international business community. At AmCham China, we will continue to regularly engage with both governments, acting as a constructive and supportive economic bridge between the two sides in many areas, including the development of resilient supply chains.
Conversations, like the ones held here today, can help to provide the foreign business community with a roadmap to improve the current business environment, so that foreign businesses can continue to invest and constructively contribute to China’s development in the agriculture sector and beyond.
Thank you very much.