ST. PAUL — A Minnesota trade mission to Japan and South Korea will likely yield positive results for the state, Gov. Tim Walz said Friday, Sept. 13, after his six-day trip.
But the demands for agricultural products won't be enough to fill the gap left by China amid ongoing trade wars.
The Trump administration's trade negotiations have hit hard in Minnesota, where exports saw a 4% dip in the state's exports between April and June of this year compared to that timeframe a year prior. And Minnesota farmers have seen demand for their products dry up as China temporarily halted its purchases of U.S. agricultural goods.
State leaders aimed to sell the Japanese on Minnesotan agricultural goods, but they said Japan didn't have the capacity to absorb the excess corn, soybeans or pork.
"So I was making the pitch — and I think others have been — about is there capacity to pick up more? It doesn't sound like it in Japan," Walz said. "There's just no substitute for 1.6 billion consumers who are hungry. There's just not enough market in the world to absorb our capacity."
Walz said Japan would import another 1 billion bushels of Minnesota soybeans. State leaders didn't discuss additional farm exports with Korean leaders during a one-day visit to Seoul, Walz said.
The first-term Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor said he and Minnesota Economic Development Commissioner Steve Grove were able to meet with leaders of several Minnesota companies with a presence in Japan, including Medtronic, 3M and Boston Scientific and Japanese companies like Daikin that are growing their presence in Minnesota.
And as part of the visit with Japan, the fourth-largest importer of Minnesota goods, Walz said state officials engaged with dozens of other Japanese leaders considering doing business with Minnesota.
Amid a tumultuous federal trade environment, Walz said the visit to Tokyo and Seoul was important in reaffirming relationships and spreading the message that the state welcomes new businesses.
"Relationships matter. At a time of chaos and unrest in trade, our Japanese and Korean partners are looking for solid relationships with states ... that share their values," Walz said. "We spent time discussing things that would make a difference at a time of stressed trade."
Minnesota leaders and Japanese business officials talked about Minnesota's culture, its potential for development and strengths in several industries. And that message resonated, Walz and Grove said. Japanese officials said they were moving into Minnesota or seriously considering it because of the workforce and access to experts in various fields.
"It's not just 'let's come and be in the Midwest and have access to these supply chains and these markets,' but it's 'how do we take advantage of the deep knowledge and the wisdom of the markets in the Midwest?'" Grove said of Japanese companies considering Minnesota.
Walz and five other governors traveled to Japan as part of the 51st Midwest U.S. Japan Association Conference in Tokyo. Walz and Grove said they also met with leaders of Korean-owned Doosan, which owns Bobcat, and CJ, which owns Schwan's, while they were in Seoul.