Global market Farm Day focus

The importance of the global market was the focus of discussion during the eighth annual Farm Day Forum hosted by U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany Jr., M.D., here Wednesday.

Boustany, R-Lafayette, initiated his very first Farm Day Forum in Rayne in 2007. This year marked the first return to The Frog Capital since that premier session.

“According to recent data, the United States has experienced record exports in excess of $63 billion in 2013,” Boustany said to the room filled with area farmers — mostly rice and sugar cane.

“Agricultural exports was the second largest sector in all that,” he added. “I believe U.S. agriculture can compete anywhere in the world.”

Taking part in the panel discussion along with the congressman  were Donald C. van de Werken, office director, New Orleans U.S. Export Assistance Center, a unit of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration; and Edward T. Hayes, partner, Leake and Andersson, LLP, and a specialist in International Trade Law.

“The United States has a trade surplus in agriculture, to the tune of $37 billion last year,” Hayes said. “And what you all do adds to the balance of trade in our country.”

Hayes added that inroads are being made with the European Union, which he described as “the single largest export market in the world.”

And van de Werken said modern technology only increases access to the global market.

“We are so connected with the world its unbelievable,” he said. If you have a smart phone you are connected to the global market.

“And agriculture is at the forefront of that global market because there are billions of people in the world and they can’t all feed themselves.”

Van de Werken said his office works directly with about 3,000 companies in Louisiana that export goods or services.

“If you’re not involved in the decision as to where your product is going you need to be,” he told the farmers in the audience.

Fred Zaunbrecher, Acadia rice farmer, told panelists that, while he agrees that creating new export markets is important to the country’s economy, “protecting the markets we have is very important.”

Zaunbrecher pointed out that the export of rice to Mexico has decreased over the last few years due to increased rice going to that country from Vietnam.

“If the trend continues like it’s going, in a few years we won’t be selling any more milled rice to Mexico,” he said.

Unfortunately, according to Hayes, there is no “quick fix” for the problem.

The attorney suggested NAFTA consultations unless “third country dumping” can be proven.

Third country dumping, he explained, is a situation in which exports of a product from one country are being injured or threatened with injury because of exports of the same product from a second country into a third country at less than fair value. 

Section 1318 of the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988 establishes procedures for U.S. industries to petition the U.S. Trade Representative to request a foreign government that is a signatory to the GATT Anti-Dumping Code to initiate an antidumping investigation on behalf of a U.S. industry that claims it is being injured by dumping in that country’s market.

Van de Werken agreed that NAFTA, though rarely detrimental to trade practices, can create issues. He added, however, that he feels the advantages of the free trade agreement that included Mexico, Canada and the United States, produces more benefits than problems.

“Know your marketplace and find your market,” van de Werken said. “Your competition is global and you have to be aggressive.”

Clarence Berken asked if steps could be taken to ensure that imported food products are held to the same inspection standards as locally grown  products.

“Less than 1 percent of the rice imported is inspected,” he said.

Hayes said a lack of funding for inspectors is probably the main reason for the lax inspections.

“After 911 that department was put under Homeland Security and most of the funding went to protecting the country,” he said. “This is something we’re work on in trade negotiations.”

Van de Werken, who also operated a blueberry farm in Mississippi, said the fruit industry faces the same problems.

“My best advise to you is to band together,” he said. “We’re hoping that new FDA rules will address that problem.

Other discussion topics included the prospect of open trade with Cuba and fighting “dumping” in the sugar industry.

Following the panel discussion, U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama related some of his experiences working with the recently passed Farm Bill.

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