Walz Trade

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, left, and his economic development commissioner, Steve Grove, right, meet with reporters in the governor’s office at the state Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019, to discuss their just-ended trade mission to Japan and South Korea. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz said Friday that his just-concluded six-day trade trip to Japan and South Korea was productive but also showed that Japan won’t be able to pick up much slack from the U.S. trade war with China.

Minnesota’s agricultural economy has been rattled by President Donald Trump’s trade war with China and the resulting drop in exports of key commodities, including soybeans and pork. However, Walz said, they heard that opportunities for increased agricultural exports to Japan are limited. He said U.S. embassy staff told them the Japanese market doesn’t have the capacity to absorb much more.

“I was making the pitch — and I think others have been — is there capacity for them to pick up more? It doesn’t sound like it in Japan,” the governor said.

He added that they didn’t have the chance to discuss farm exports in any depth during their one-day stop in Seoul, which included an hour-long meeting with the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Harry Harris.

“There’s just no substitute for 1.6 billion consumers, who are hungry, to get our China trade negotiations normalized,” he said. “There’s not enough market in the rest of the world to absorb our capacity.”

The Democratic governor said the trip reinforced his view that relationships matter when it comes to trade.

“At a time of chaos and unrest in trade,” he said, “our Japanese and South Korean partners are looking for solid relationships with states, and Minnesota in particular, that share their values.”

Walz and Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove met with officials from Minnesota companies already doing business in Japan, including Medtronic, 3M and Boston Scientific. They also met with Korean companies with investments in Minnesota, including Doosan Group, which owns the Bobcat construction machinery company in Owatonna, and South Korea’s largest food manufacturer, CJ CheilJedang Group, which owns the Schwan’s food company in Marshall. They also met in Japan with officials from Kito Corporation, which owns Peerless Chain in Winona.

They also hosted a meeting with 40 companies in Japan that don’t currently do business with Minnesota. Grove said conversations with them will continue.

Rice County Administrator Sara Folsted and Faribault Community and Economic Development Director Deanna Kuennen also made the trip. The two have been building relationships with Japanese companies following a visit by Japanese Consul-General Naoki Ito in February 2018. Ito later invited them and several other area leaders to visit the country, a trip they made earlier this year, and meet some of the nation’s business leaders. While nothing has yet developed, Kuennen believes that the relationships will boost Faribault and Rice County profile overseas.

Walz was one of five Midwest governors who attended the 51st Midwest U.S. Japan Association Conference in Tokyo during his trip. He said it was first time in nine years that Minnesota had participated in the conference.

“I think we will see some fruitful investments and an expansion about how Minnesota is viewed,” he said.

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