DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad and members of a Chinese delegation from Hebei Province signed an “agreement of understanding” Tuesday afternoon deepening ties between Iowa and the province, which is home to 72 million people.
The agreement is, in actuality, 21 separate memoranda of understanding between 42 different Iowa and Hebei companies, covering such areas as agriculture, biomedicine, manufacturing trade, tourism and education. The signing also marked an official recognition of the 30-year-old Sister City relationship between the province located southwest of Bejing and the state.
Iowa officials estimate the agreements could be worth more than $1 billion to companies in both Hebei and Iowa.
Officials from both the Chinese and the Iowa delegations sounded optimistic that it was just the start.
“We would like to expand high-level exchange visits in a more systematic way,” Secretary of the Hebei Province Central Committee Zhou Benshun said through a translator at a 90-minute program at The Principal Financial Group corporate headquarters in downtown Des Moines preceding the signing.
Zhou called for increased information exchanges between the state and the province as well exchanges between the people of Iowa and Hebei Province.
The signing ceremony itself took place in the building’s 435-seat, wood-paneled auditorium. Roughly 300 people attended, including 130 Chinese officials and a small media entourage that traveled with the group.
Branstad seemed to relish his role as host.
He told stories of his earlier visits to China and contrasted the steam locomotive he rode in 1984 to the bullet train he took during a trip last year.
“What a difference,” he said.
Branstad also said there is “special relationship” between Iowa and the “unique relationship” between himself and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The two met when Branstad was governor in 1985 and Xi was a party official. Xi returned to Iowa last year for a state dinner just before he took office as president.
He sent a letter that was read aloud at the signing ceremony in which Xi said he was proud to call the governor and other Iowans “Old Friends.”
Currently, about one in every four rows of Iowa soybeans makes its way to China, and China imports more agricultural product from Iowa than all other countries combined.
The signing capped off a two-day tour by the delegation, including tours in Muscatine, Cedar Rapids and Des Moines.