Beth Ford, president and CEO of Land O’Lakes, has urged the Biden administration to adopt a more muscular and strategic trade agenda to increase U.S. agricultural exports.
The President’s Export Council on Wednesday endorsed the four-point plan that Ford presented to the export council, a 25-member panel that acts as the major national advisory committee on international trade.
Ford was appointed to the export council early this year and she’s leveraging that position to elevate the voices of farmers, agribusiness leaders, and people who live in rural communities.
When Ford supported substantial federal funding for broadband infrastructure in rural America, she focused on building a large coalition of people and organizations who could make the economic and social cases for good digital access. The bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law in 2021 included $65 billion for broadband.
Ford is taking a similar approach this year in making sure the Biden administration knows that a wide array of farm, agriculture and trade organizations support the action agenda she outlined this week to the President’s Export Council.
In presenting the trade recommendations to the export council Wednesday, Ford said she was doing so on behalf of the agricultural sector. “This proposal is supported industry-wide, with deep consultation and input from agricultural organizations representing all 50 states as well as across important commodities in global trade,” Ford said. “Thirty-five organizations authored and signed a letter in support of these proposals.”
Those organizations included the American Farm Bureau Federation, U.S. Dairy Export Council, National Association of Wheat Growers, American Soybean Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Pork Producers Council, and National Council of Farmer Cooperatives.
In a letter, the agricultural organizations asked the President’s Export Council to support the action agenda “to bolster America’s food and ag industries, and with it, the U.S. economy at large.”
In her remarks, Ford noted that American food and agriculture exports reached nearly $200 billion in 2022. “Yet, in 2023, we are experiencing a 9% decline in the value of U.S. food and agricultural exports, and a 16% decline in volume,” Ford said.
For the 2023 marketing year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is projecting a food and agriculture trade deficit of $17 billion. “This is a stark contrast to the United States’ historical trade surplus in agricultural exports, averaging $12.5 billion over the past 10 years,” Ford said.
The President’s Export Council endorsed four recommendations presented by Land O’Lakes CEO Ford and supported by the national agricultural organizations. Those recommendations were conveyed to President Biden in a Wednesday letter from Mark Ein, a businessman and philanthropist who chairs the president’s Export Council.
Here are the four recommendations:
Increase collaboration on diversifying the U.S. agricultural supply chain: In Ford’s remarks, she called on the administration to diversify sourcing and to “incentivize cost-effective U.S. production of ingredients.” She listed fertilizers, vitamins, and chemicals. “These efforts would protect against supply shocks that could threaten domestic production,” Ford said.
For maximum results, Ein wrote about the need for better coordination within the federal government—including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Commerce Department—in deploying resources and implementing initiatives that address national security and food security risks within the supply chain.
Establish robust agricultural trade agenda: “Current agricultural trade exports are significantly below prior years and America is losing its global agricultural trade dominance,” Ein wrote.
“We ask the [Biden] administration to expand domestic trade promotion programs for traditional and specialty crops, recommit to comprehensive trade agreements where possible, and eliminate tariff and non-tariff trade barriers within priority regions and markets,” Ford said.
Ein identified those priority regions as Brazil, the United Kingdom, and countries in South and Southeast Asia, including Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
“India remains a key market of interest for agricultural products,” Ein wrote. “While India has a difficult record of negotiations, we urge continued efforts to address its longstanding trade barriers, such as their practice of creating additional export certificates that were not negotiated with U.S. regulatory authorities.”
Enforce existing trade agreements: Ford called on the federal government to “strengthen and modernize the World Trade Organization dispute resolution process and use it to improve market access for U.S. agricultural goods.”
Ein encouraged “aggressive enforcement of the provisions surrounding tariff and non-tariff barriers in the USMCA [United States-Mexico-Canada] Agreement, other agreements as laid out in the National Trade Estimate report, as well as agreements that lack specific dispute resolution procedures.”
He wrote that the United States “continues to see challenges from various countries’ prohibitions on the use of common food names and a myriad of issues in India.”
Lead on international sustainability and climate efforts: Both Ford and Ein emphasized the importance of the U.S. having a “unified message” on international sustainability and climate efforts.
The sustainability in agriculture approach, Ein wrote, should focus on: using voluntary, incentive-based programs to support sustainable productivity growth; keeping food accessible; supporting climate-smart agriculture practices; and providing additional market opportunities.
This sustainability recommendation was forwarded to the Biden administration in the same week that government and business leaders are gathered in Dubai for the U.N. Climate Change Conference.
“Many factors go into the competitiveness and strength of U.S. food and agricultural exports, including for example, the economic impacts of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, availability and cost of shipping and farm inputs, climate and weather,” Ein wrote to President Biden. “The last few years, American agriculture has been buffeted by these factors as well as the coronavirus pandemic and market disruptions due to retaliatory trade actions by our largest trading partners.”