MN ag leaders promote the importance of free trade

AgriGrowth held its annual meeting last week in the Twin Cities, bringing together representatives from agriculture and the food systems industry. With the renegotiation of NAFTA front-of-mind for many in the ag sector, the meeting kicked off with a panel session on trade and what is at stake for U.S. agriculture.

The panel featured Devry Boughner Vorwerk, vice president of global corporate affairs at Cargill, Jeff Nawn, global grain trade and biotech affairs lead for DuPont Pioneer, Randy Spronk, past president of the National Pork Producers Council, and National Corn Growers Association Director of Public Policy Lesly McNitt.

Panelists reached a consensus on the importance of free trade agreements, specifically NAFTA, and the real-world consequences that result if they no longer exist. The negative impact is amplified as competing countries take advantage of the uncertainty around America’s place in global trade by forming their own export markets.

With agreements like NAFTA, Spronk said the United States is able to compete and has done so very well. If those agreements go away, the nation’s ag sector is at a considerable competitive disadvantage. This is especially vital in Mexico, which is the largest importer of American corn.

“There will be a sucking sound for American trade if we lose those agreements and Mexican tariffs go up 25 percent,” he said.

McNitt stressed how crucial trade is to the average farmer’s income, and it is a topic she is hearing about today more than ever from the farming community. Losing Mexico as a trade partner when approximately 25 percent of exported corn goes to our southern neighbor is a major source of concern, and one the ag sector needs to prepare for.

“You have to manage risk and move from offense to defense,” McNitt said. “It is important we continue to pursue new markets and move forward.”

The overall uncertainty around the United States’ role in free-trade agreements will have an effect, and proposed sunset clauses that give America an out after a set period of time do not help, according to Boughner Vorwerk.

McNitt echoed those concerns, and said the world is paying attention to current renegotiations, which also include the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement.

“Countries aren’t going to want to be our partner [in trade] if they think we could leave them standing,” she said.

Spronk said while uncertainty may exist stateside, other countries, particularly in the European Union, are ready to take advantage. And competitors also exist close to home, with Canada making headway in establishing a strong trade relationship with Japan, according to Spronk.

In terms of what farmers can do to advocate for trade agreements, Boughner Vorwerk said it is key to think of each as a sustainability agreement and use storytelling based in fact to advocate for their importance.

McNitt said these conversations should be had throughout a farmer’s community, not only with public officials.

“Tell your story to the people you do business with every day because the ripple effects could impact how you do business with all of them.”

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