Grappling over trade with Europe
During the last decade, growth of U.S. agricultural exports to the European Union has been the slowest among this country's top 10 export destinations. If U.S. farmers and ranchers had an opportunity to compete, trade with the EU could become a growth market for them.
"Regulatory barriers have become a significant impediment to that growth," says Steve Baccus, who farms in Ottawa County and serves as Kansas Farm Bureau president.
In mid-October, Baccus spoke to members of the North American and European Union agricultural conference in Mexico City.
He also serves as chair of the American Farm Bureau Federation trade advisory committee.
Long-standing barriers against conventionally raised U.S. beef, ongoing restrictions against U.S. poultry and pork and actions that limit U.S. exports of goods produced using biotechnology remain the greatest obstacles between the United States and the European Union, Baccus says. It's negatively impacting trade relations with Europe.
"Last year we shipped more than $8.8 billion worth of agricultural and food products to the EU," Baccus notes. "In turn they shipped back about $16.6 billion. As big as those numbers are, they could be a whole lot bigger if barriers to trade were removed."
Baccus says the EU ag leaders admitted for the first time in Mexico City they understand the damage these restrictions are doing to them and their ability to compete in world trade.
European farmers and ranchers understand the strides biotechnology has made, Baccus says. They know their inability to use these advances is hampering their ability to remain competitive.
As with previous meetings between the two groups, the U.S. trade committee continually reminded the EU to let their consumers decide.
"We've talked to them about providing their consumers with both organic and conventionally grown foods," Baccus says. "We've also talked with them about giving shoppers the opportunity to buy conventionally produced beef or hormone-free beef, and that's a misnomer."
Baccus believes agricultural world trade is about options for this country's overseas customers.
"We've said for years that the consumer is king," he says. "We believe they should dictate market trends not government."
When and if this change occurs, Baccus says U.S. farmers and ranchers will be willing and able to meet the food needs and desires of people around the globe.
"It's interesting that people throughout the world embrace new advancements in health care, the work place and their homes, but when you talk to them about food in this context, they become nervous about using modern technology," Baccus says. "We'll continue to tell our story."
John Schlageck, a native of Hoxie, is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansan who writes for the Kansas Farm Bureau.