People hold signs welcoming the Chinese Vice President outside the World Food Prize Building in Des Moines.

The first ever agricultural symposium between the U.S. and China opened this morning at the World Food Prize headquarters in Des Moines. It’s part of the Chines vice president’s visit to Iowa.

The opening was filled with introductions and ceremony, but very few details about specific issues.

U.S. Ag Secretary and former Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack, did talk about what they hope to accomplish.

“This symposium is an historic event. It’s a real opportunity to strengthen an already vibrant, cooperative relationship between our two countries, which is built on mutual benefits and mutual and trust,” Vilsack said.

“One of the strongest links in that relationship is centered on agriculture, which will be further strengthened with the signing of our strategic cooperation agreement later today.”

Vilsack credited Governor Terry Branstad, Chinese Ag minister Han Changfu, and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping with pulling the symposium together. “We are the world’s two largest agricultural producers, and strong collaborators in agriculture research and education. Our great trade relationship has benefited the citizens of both of our nations. Every day our nations and the livelihood of our citizens grow more connected. And I look forward to strengthening the bond even further in the years ahead,” Vilsack said.

Chinese Vice President, Xi, through an interpreter, talked about his expectations for the symposium. “The theme of the symposium is to strengthen the mutually beneficial China-U-S agricultural cooperation. Under this theme there will be thematic discussions on major issues of…food security, food safety, stainability and agricultural trade,” he said.

Vice President Xi said he anticipates good things for both countries out of this symposium. “I believe these discussions will further deepen China-U-S agriculture exchanges and cooperation, they will make our agriculture sectors better developed, rural areas more prosperous, and our farmers better off,” Xi said.

He wrapped up the opening ceremonies with this statement. “I believe the China-U-S agricultural cooperation will surely have a broader prospect and a better future,” Xi said. “In conclusion, I wish the symposium complete success, thank you.”

The Chinese vice president and his delegation,Governor Branstad, and Ag Secretary Vilsack left immediately after the opening ceremonies to motorcade to view the ag operations at a farm near Maxwell. The opening ceremonies were the only portion of the symposium that will be open to the media.

There were several people with signs and banners welcoming the Chinese vice president on the street across from the World Food Prize building.

Update: U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack confirmed today that he has signed the ag agreement with China. Here is a new release on the announcement:

 U.S., China Sign Plan of Strategic Cooperation in Agriculture
Des Moines, Iowa, Feb. 16, 2012-Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and China’s Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu today signed an historic Plan of Strategic Cooperation that will guide the two countries’ agricultural relationship for the next 5 years. The plan was signed as part of the U.S.-China Agricultural Symposium held today at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates. The symposium focused on bilateral cooperation in the areas of food safety, food security and sustainable agriculture, as well as enhanced business relationships between the two countries.

 “This symposium and plan are a product of a vision I share with my dear old friend Minister Han for the United States and China to work more collaboratively in the future to benefit our nations and agriculture around the world,” Vilsack said.  “This plan builds on the already strong relationship our nations enjoy around agricultural science, trade, and education. It looks to deepen our cooperation through technical exchange and to strengthen coordination in priority areas like animal and plant health and disease, food security, sustainable agriculture, genetic resources, agricultural markets and trade, and biotechnology and other emerging technologies,” he added. 

Xi Jinping, China’s vice president, opened the symposium and stressed the importance China places on supporting farmers and rural development, as well as on food security. “China attaches great importance to food security, and ensuring a sufficient food supply for 1.3 billion people,” Xi said.

 In the 2011 fiscal year, China became the top market for U.S. agricultural goods, purchasing $20 billion in U.S. agricultural exports. The value of U.S. farm exports to China supported more than 160,000 American jobs in 2011, on and off the farm across a variety of sectors.