Back From China

By former USDA Secretary John R. Block

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by the National Corn Growers Association, CropLife America, and Renewable Fuels Association. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary –

Here are some of my observations after two weeks in China, leading a delegation of 30 farm broadcasters and farm leaders. It is not the China that I visited 40 years ago. That was 1978 and as the Illinois state Director of Agriculture, I led a team of Illinois farm leaders to China. Our objective was to build a trade relationship with that country.

In that day, the Chinese streets were full of bicycles; not very many cars. Today, their cities are busy – filled with cars and trucks. Traffic is everywhere. And the cars are new. Not old like in Cuba.

Their farms are not what they were. They are bigger with modern machinery. We toured a big fish farm, a huge chicken and egg laying business – millions of eggs! China owns Syngenta – the largest supplier of seed, chemicals, and fertilizer in the world. They are spending millions on GMOs and new crop technology.

Perhaps the most impressive contrast to 40 years ago is in the cities. They are huge. People from the country have come to town. Skyscrapers, apartment buildings, millions of people everywhere. 60% of their people now live in the cities. They are hard-working, dedicated, and prosperous. Incomes could average $30,000. Young people everywhere – they aren’t hungry and they aren’t overweight either.

Their stores are just as modern as ours. We were in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, and 3 other large cities with populations ranging from 10 million to 25 million. In one city block, I saw KFC, Starbucks, CVS, McDonald’s, 7-11, and Pizza Hut. I thought I was home. With a population of 1.3 billion people, China is no third world country today.

China has concerns about escalation of our trade war, as we do. It should be no surprise the “China Daily” newspaper blames President Trump. However, in meeting with U.S. Ambassador Branstadt and other U.S. Department of Agriculture reps, they made it clear that pressure needs to be exerted to force China to honor commitments made under the World Trade Organization.

President Xi Jinping said, “China is willing to work with global trading partners to make economic globalization more inclusive and balanced.” I still hold out hope that President Trump and President Xi Jinping can find common ground.

If you would like to review my radio shows going back more than 20 years, just go on-line to

Until next week, I am John Block just back from China.

John Block was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from 1981-1985, where he played a key role in the development of the 1985 Farm Bill.  If you would like to review his radio shows going back more than 20 years, visit


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