Miller looks to expand overseas markets for Minnesota farmers


SUBMITTED PHOTO District 28 State Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-Winona), fifth from left, recently took part in an overseas trade mission in Taiwan, where he found opportunities for Minnesota farmers to market their commodities overseas.
By: 
Chad Smith

It’s no secret that international trade disputes have affected all American farmers, particularly those from Minnesota. But District 28 Republican State Sen. Jeremy Miller recently took part in an overseas trade mission to Taiwan in July in hopes of expanding opportunities for Minnesota farmers trying to market their commodities.

“A representative from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Chicago reached out to me earlier this year about leading a multi-state, bipartisan legislative leaders’ delegation to Taiwan,” Miller said. “Before we go any further, people have asked who paid for the trip. I want to make it clear that the trip was paid for by Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The whole purpose of the trip was to develop relationships between the United States of America, specifically Minnesota, and partners in Taiwan.”

This was Miller’s second trip overseas, the first occurring in 2011 to South Korea. He said the number one focus of these trips is to “meet people,” with the number two focus of “looking at opportunities.” The third and most important focus of the trip is “developing relationships” to see what kinds of business dealings can evolve in the future.

“The potential is there for a lot of different relationships between Minnesota and Taiwan,” he said. “By far, the biggest opportunity I see in Taiwan is for agriculture. Minnesota already exports a good number of crops, especially soybeans, to Taiwan. I think there’s even more opportunity there, whether it be for corn, more soybeans, and especially for pork.”

According to Miller, Minnesota exported about $413 million worth of goods to Taiwan in 2018. However, that number is likely to go higher. “Last year, there was a trade mission to Taiwan that both Minnesota and Iowa took part in,” he recalled. “On that trip, Taiwan signed a $1.5 billion dollar deal to buy 3.9 million metric tons of soybeans from both Minnesota and Iowa before 2021.

“What I’m driving at is there are even more opportunities for Minnesota and Taiwan to increase the amount of business done,” he said. “But, it comes down to keeping lines of communication open and building on those relationships once they’re established.”

Interestingly, China sees Taiwan as a part of its country. With relationships between the U.S. and China strained right now, it may seem strange that Minnesota and Taiwan not only currently do business, but are hoping to expand. Miller says it boils down to the relationship between China and Taiwan, which is not a good one at all.

“It’s much tenser than I thought,” Miller said. “Taiwan has been governed independently since 1949. But mainland China still views Taiwan as a province. Mainland China even passed an anti-secession law that would force reunification if Taiwan ever moves toward full independence. It’s a rocky and very tense relationship.”

Miller said that agendas for trade missions like this tend to be packed full of activity.

“Our group met with a lot of different people and organizations. We heard from the Taipei Rapid Transit Corporation, which handles all of the buses and commuter rails,” Miller said. “We had a briefing at the American Institute in Taiwan (basically the American embassy). We met with the American State Offices Association, as well as many other groups.”

From a personal perspective, the senator said one of the biggest takeaways was just how sophisticated life is in Taiwan.

“The people there are very hard-working and committed to a better life,” he recalled. “The people there are extremely kind and considerate. I say that especially because as an American, you don’t always feel as welcome as you hope to overseas. In Taiwan, we felt very welcome.

“I would say the relationship between the U.S. and Taiwan is very strong, and they’re very appreciative of that relationship. That personal, face-to-face touch when doing business is so important. I see this in my professional life because we do a lot of business in Asia. That personal interaction can really help solidify some productive relationships between Minnesota and Taiwan.”