Friends in need: Taiwan trading partners send masks to Minnesota first responders

A billion dollar trade relationship between Minnesota and Taiwan now involves more than just soybeans. In a goodwill gesture, Taiwan last week shipped 29 boxes containing 100,000 surgical masks to Minnesota’s first responders to assist in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“These are high-quality masks,” says Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) Commissioner Thom Petersen, who noted Taiwan had already sent MDA 10,000 masks. “It’s really exciting and helpful.”

Petersen and MDA worked with Eric Huang, director general with Taipei’s Economic & Cultural Office in Chicago, to procure the masks.

“These masks will undoubtedly help our state’s medical workforce battle the spread of COVID-19 and protect our critical frontline responders,” Petersen wrote in a letter of appreciation to Huang.

Minnesota soybean farmers have long held Taiwan as a valuable trade partner. The Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council has spent decades investing checkoff dollars into building trade relations with Taiwan. The Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) have also advocated for expanding trade with Taiwan, while leaders from both organizations have traveled to Taiwan, and returned the favor by hosting Taiwanese trade teams.

MDA Commissioner Thom Petersen (left) and International Trade Manager Jeff Phillips accepted 100,000 masks from Taiwan to send to first responders.

“A lot of different soybean growers have been to Taiwan and we’ve built a relationship with them,” Petersen says. “That relationship is really important and it pays dividends, so kudos to the Soybean Growers for helping to create those relationships.”

MSGA Director Bob Worth traveled with MDA leaders to Taiwan around 2013 to meet with buyers and visit processing plants.

“It was such a good learning experience,” he said. “Then, later, we got to meet the Taiwan folks on our soil and show them what we are about. And, what they’re doing now with sending us masks, it’s very moving.”

In 2018, Taiwan agreed to purchase up to $1.56 billion worth of soybeans from Minnesota and Iowa, equating to as much as 3.9 million metric tons. The U.S. is Taiwan’s top supplier of agricultural products, equating to $3.9 billion in 2018. U.S. soybeans make up 86 percent of Taiwan’s market share. In 2019, Tom Slunecka, CEO of Ag Management Solutions, represented the Council on the USDA’s first trade mission to Taiwan.

“We are grateful to our friends and trading partners from Taiwan for stepping up in our time of need,” Slunecka says. “Our relationship is built on mutual respect and this amazingly kind gesture shows that our friendship transcends soybeans.”

Petersen said throughout the pandemic, MDA has been in regular contact with its established and emerging trading partners.

“I’ve been trying to do a lot of calls with our trading partners,” he said, citing Kazakhstan, the United Kingdom, Colombia, Peru, Canada and Mexico, among others. “We’ve been keeping in regular contact. Even though we can’t travel at the moment, we’re probably even more aggressive now. It’s important to keep those relationships going.”

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