China’s threat to US agriculture goes beyond farmland, lawmakers say

By Staff
3 Min Read

A congressional crackdown on Chinese corporate ownership that began with TikTok may soon be coming to U.S. farms.

U.S. lawmakers are zeroing in on China’s influence over agriculture and exploring whether to ban those with ties to the country from owning American farmland. House members on Wednesday delved into China’s relationship to U.S. agriculture, with both Republicans and Democrats agreeing the country poses a threat to food security and farmers’ ability to compete on the world stage.

“These threats are multifaceted, strategic, and incendiary and require a coordinated and proactive response,” said Rep. Glenn Thompson, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. “These last few years have seen China steal U.S. intellectual property, weaponize agricultural trade and acquire American farmland at an alarming rate.”

Calls to restrict Chinese ownership of U.S. farmland have grown stronger over the past few years, though China owns a small fraction of American agricultural land. Still, states have moved to prohibit foreign adversaries from gaining access to U.S. farms, citing high-profile cases where Chinese companies looked to purchase land near military operations.

Lawmakers are also taking a hard look at intellectual property concerns and Chinese companies’ agriculture acquisitions of fertilizer companies and large processors like Smithfield Foods. The U.S. Department of Justice previously identified cases of Chinese nationals attempting to steal and send back genetically modified seeds from the U.S.

However, China’s dominance as an agricultural importer is complicating legislative efforts to take action against suspected national security concerns on the federal level. As a top buyer of agricultural commodities, farm groups warn that a crackdown against the country could spark another trade war that would only devastate U.S. growers.

“The sheer scale of China’s demand for soybeans cannot be replaced,” said Josh Gackle, president of the American Soybean Association. “As the United States considers actions to protect our national security interests, we must also maintain and protect our economic and trade interests as well.”

Lawmakers and farm groups are seeking new export markets to diversify away from China and mitigate the trade consequences of any legislative action taken against the country. Gackle noted potential for future export opportunities in North Africa and countries including Indonesia, Japan and Korea.

However, establishing those relationships takes time, and likely still won’t be enough to offset any losses from China.

“You’re not going to replace that market,” said Rep. Dusty Johnson, a Republican from South Dakota. “But I do think if you reduce the concentration, then that does help and make sure that we’re not at such a power asymmetry.”

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