U.S. negotiators are keenly aware of how important resolving the trade dispute with China is to farmers but won’t buckle to a bad deal, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a standing-room-only crowd last week in a speech hosted by Iowa Farm Bureau at the World Food Prize headquarters in Des Moines.

The country’s top-ranking diplomat said there are still a few tough obstacles to overcome, including mak­­ing sure the terms of the deal are enforceable.

“It’s one thing to get an agreement, to write something down and shake hands. It’s another thing to make sure you can enforce that agreement if the other side doesn’t honor it,” said Pompeo, who served as a U.S. representative from Kansas from 2011-2017 and as director of the CIA from 2017-2018. “We’ve seen that before where the Chinese have made promises; they’ve made commitments but have walked away from them. We’re very focused on making sure that if that happens again, there’s a way to enforce those rules.”

Pompeo’s message was firmer than many recent reports that a deal between the countries was imminent, Josh Henik, a Linn County Farm Bureau member, observed after the speech.

Pompeo’s two-day visit to Iowa hammered home the fact that the Trump administration understands the importance of trade to farmers, added Brent Johnson, Iowa Farm Bureau District 4 director from Calhoun County.

“I’m very impressed that he came here to listen to farmers and find out what’s important to us,” said Johnson. “Trade with China has a huge impact on farmers in Iowa, and I think this shows the administration understands that.”

Trump said he has seen enough progress in the talks with China to delay the planned next round of tariff hikes on Chinese products, which were supposed to take effect March 1. He in turn called for China to lift its tariffs on U.S. agricultural products.

Protectionism persists

But Pompeo emphasized China’s protectionist policies and theft of U.S. technology had to be addressed, such as a case in which a Chinese national was caught trying to steal patented seeds from an Iowa corn field.

“For an awfully long time, American farmers and American agriculture have been treated unfairly, not only by China, who has stolen our intellectual property and cheated and had tariff barriers and non-tariff barriers alike, but other places in the world as well. Places like Europe that won’t allow us to sell our agriculture product,” Pompeo said in an exclusive interview with the Spokesman. “President Trump has been determined to open those markets to create some basic ideas of fairness, and when we get that right, Iowa farmers will be able to compete. And when they compete, I know they’ll be successful.”

Pompeo traveled in Iowa with former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, now serving as U.S. ambassador to China. In addition to the speech to farmers, the duo toured Corteva Agriscience green­­houses in Johnston and spoke to an assembly of FFA members in Johnston.

Branstad said it was important for Iowans to know what the Trump administration is doing “on these very delicate and important issues.”

“Obviously, trade is a huge issue Iowans are concerned about, and yet frankly it is an issue that should have been addressed a long time ago,” Branstad said. “We can’t let this continue, and if we get an agreement, we’ve got to find a way for it to be enforceable.”

Pompeo said Branstad’s pos­ition as U.S. ambassador to China has helped bridge cultural understandings during the negotiations due to his vast knowledge of Iowa agriculture and long personal relationship with China President Xi Jinping.

“He’s been able to go into China and tell them the story and make sure they understood it was going to be a requirement that there was this essential fairness,” said Pompeo. “He’s been of enormous value to me as secretary of state, and an enormous value to America and Iowa as well, to be able to tell this story in a way as someone who has lived it and knows it so well.”

View the speech and Q&A highlights