Lester Moeller, St. Lawrence, is still trying to get back on South Dakota time, after spending a week literally a world away…in China.
Moeller was part of Governor Dennis Daugaard’s delegation on a trade mission to China. The delegation traveled to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong for scheduled meetings to discuss exporting their products and commodities.
The group left from Sioux Falls April 5 and 14 hours later landed in Beijing, in northern China. They departed from Hong Kong, on the southern tip of China, for the return trip a week later, and arrived on South Dakota turf April 13.
Moeller says the Governor took a smaller trade group to China last year, thanks to a State Trade and Export Promotion Grant from the Small Business Administration.
This year, 11 export-ready businesses and three agricultural commodity groups were selected to join the trade mission. Moeller represented the South Dakota Pork Producers, and the other ag commodities represented were soybeans and corn.
Others traveling with the Governor were representatives of the S.D. Department of Agriculture, Economic Development, and an interpreter.
On their first morning in China, the group was taken to see the Great Wall. However, Moeller says the China visit wasn’t for sightseeing. It was to establish contacts, help increase South Dakota’s exports, and help South Dakota companies sell products.
“The Governor and the whole economic development office should be applauded for how they laid things out,” Moeller says. “They had all itineraries set up, they did a terrific job of setting up meetings.”
And, the delegation was scheduled to meet separately with groups pertaining specifically to their interest/product. “Each person representing their own business had different travel arrangements and interpreters,” Moeller explained.
According to the Governor’s report, the delegation participated in more than 80 business-to-business meetings during that hectic week. There were breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings, as well as many other meetings outside those periods.
Moeller says one of every 20 pigs from the U.S. is exported to China. China is also the major importer of U.S. soybeans. Moeller and the soybean representative often were scheduled for the same meetings. “China can’t get enough protein. While China represents 25 percent of the world’s population, only seven percent of the land can be cultivated.”
To give one an idea of the immensity of the country, Moeller says the U.S. raises 111 million pigs a year, and is second in production. China raises 555 million pigs—tops in production—but cannot keep up with the needs of its population of 1.3 billion people.
“My two main objectives of the trip were to learn how to better serve the people of China, and to speak with potential investors of American pork,” Moeller said. And that he did. Often, he met with two or three different groups in a day’s time.
“It was a very hectic schedule, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., meeting with the different people on the itinerary. I never slept that well or that much during the week.”
Moeller says China has many small farms, while others are huge. “Some of the small farms are tilled by hand, and fertilizer is spread by hand. But the large farms are very progressive.”
He also saw many fish farms, a few rice fields, though many of those are in the northern section of the country. “And China is a huge consumer of soybeans.”
The Chinese, however, do not want genetically modified soybeans. “Soybeans that are modified don’t make it into the foods Chinese people consume. But they will crush the beans, using the oil for cooking and the soybean meal for livestock protein.”
Likewise, the Chinese won’t accept pigs that have been fed a growth promoter (Paylean). All pork going into China is tested for that.
“Bird flu was going on in China while we were there. There were also three separate cases of dead pigs found floating in the river. That spooked the population. There was major interest in asking about our products, primarily pork.”
Moeller said a question put to him was, “We find dead pigs in rivers. What’s to stop that from happening in the U.S.?”
Moeller says he pointed out that pork production in the U.S. is regulated, must pass government inspection. “There is zero tolerance regarding discharge, and mandatory disposal of mortality. In addition, slaughtering plants require a third party to assess all sites for misuse of drugs, misuse of animals, and to ensure environmentally safe conditions.”
In addition to the ag commodity groups, Moeller says the 11 businesses were promoting their products. Among the businesses represented were motorcycles, special foods, mining, road construction, tractor modifications, irrigation systems and underground conduit supplies. “I have a feeling some of those businesses will be traveling back there, because they sparked interest, and they have products China may need.”
Although Moeller has traveled in many parts of the world, he had never been to China. He had a few observations to share. “I found the people friendly, cordial and curious,” he commented. “They have a fast growing middle class. Even the huge cities are very clean.”
He also says China is much more advanced than he had pictured. “They have modern high-speed trains, inter-city airplane travel, many three- and four-lane highways are being built. Education is hugely important to the Chinese, English is being taught, and there is a high population of engineers. They are a progressive people.”
The Governor has expressed his view of the trip, stating, “While it is still too early to measure success, I am optimistic that the diligent work of our business and agriculture groups in China will develop into very beneficial trade partnerships.”
Moeller’s view is also upbeat. “Any time one gets to talk to a major consumer and build good relations, and hopefully sell the product, it’s worth the time.”