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Xi visits farm belt

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta participates in a full honors arrival ceremony outside the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia on February 14, 2012. UPI/Kevin Dietsch
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta participates in a full honors arrival ceremony outside the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia on February 14, 2012. UPI/Kevin Dietsch | License Photo

DES MOINES, Iowa, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- China was the largest buyer of U.S. farm goods in 2011, a fact not likely to be missed during the visit of its likely leader-to-be to Iowa, observers said.

Vice Premier Xi Jinping, set to become China's next leader this year, included Iowa on his U.S. trip also to remember his visit to Muscatine in that state nearly three decades ago.

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The timing is right as Iowa, as part of the farm belt, is enjoying an economic boom thanks partly to China's $20 billion purchases of U.S. agricultural products including soybeans, pork and corn, The Wall Street Journal reported.

As the top importer of these U.S. agricultural products, China hopes to dent some of the criticism for running huge trade surpluses against the United States.

Iowa's grain farmers have had record returns in the past two years, giving the state the sixth-lowest jobless rate of 5.6 percent, the Journal said.

U.S. farmers "know the Chinese market is growing, and they can make better money," Yang Guoqiang, China's consul general in Chicago, told the Journal. "I think the whole Midwest has different feelings from what D.C. is talking about."

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"Xi probably wants to soften the confrontational rhetoric on trade," Fred Gale, a China expert economist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told the Journal.

China's trade surplus with the United States rose 8 percent in 2011 to $295.5 billion. It purchased $10.5 billion of soybeans from Iowa last year, four times what it spent in 2006.

The Journal noted it was not clear if these factors would help China gain political goodwill.

The highly mechanized U.S. farm belt is not seen as a major source of job growth.

Both of Iowa's senators, Republican Charles Grassley and Democrat Tom Harkin, voted for a bill last October to pressure China to appreciate its currency.

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