fb - voice of agriculture

October 2010

Trade Missions Help us Keep our Fingers on the Pulse

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

Farm Bureau leaders recently made two trade missions to very different parts of the world. The first trip, to China and Korea, was spent sharing information on the farming practices of our vastly different cultures, while furthering trade relations.

The second trade visit, to Geneva, was an opportunity to meet with world trade representatives, reminding them that U.S. agriculture still has its irons in the fire.

New Horizons

Periodically, the American Farm Bureau Federation sends a delegation of Farm Bureau leaders on what we call “Farmer-to-Farmer” trips to different countries. The purpose of these missions is for our leaders to get a hands-on introduction to other farming practices around the world, while sharing ideas and input on agricultural production.

While in China and Korea, we got a close-up look at livestock and dairy operations, an organic greenhouse farm and high-quality, specialty food stores that rely on agricultural imports.

The trips are also a way to establish or maintain good trade relations. For Korea, this couldn’t be more important since our two countries long ago negotiated a free trade agreement, only to have implementation delayed without passage in Congress. So, while Farm Bureau delegates get to visit with producers of their own ilk, they also meet with government officials and trade representatives to discuss how we can better work together.

Down, but not out

The World Trade Organization’s Doha Round, a set of negotiations for a multi-lateral trading system, has been at a standstill for years. A major sticking point concerns improved global market access for U.S. agriculture. While talks have stalled, AFBF continues periodically to meet in Geneva with WTO officials and trade representatives from other countries to let them know that while there may be a rain delay, we are still very much in the game.

Visiting Geneva is also an opportunity for us to gauge the political climate and attitude towards U.S. agriculture from a place other than where we normally sit. As one could imagine, other negotiating nations are highly interested in the U.S. mid-term elections and their meaning for advancing trade agreements. These countries are watching our elections closely knowing that come January a different makeup of Congress could change the outlook of trading opportunities.

Congressional action on pending free trade agreements with Panama, Colombia and Korea are also being viewed as a crucial indicator of our nation’s ability to consider any future Doha agreement. Why should other nations trust that we can quickly pass an entire world trade deal when our trade agreements with individual countries have been stalled since 2007?

Trade is an important component of the agriculture industry. It supports thousands of U.S. jobs, while also strengthening our economy through exports. Keeping our finger on the pulse through global trade visits will better help us keep trade alive.