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GHI Talks Trade and Technology at the Agri-Pulse Summit
Trade and technology were the hot topics at the the annual Agri-Pulse Ag & Food Summit in Washington, D.C. on March 21st. Global Harvest Initiative (GHI) was a lead sponsor of the event.
Speaking on a panel about agricultural technology and productivity, Margaret Zeigler, Executive Director of GHI, emphasized the critical necessity of improving agricultural productivity to sustainably meet the growing global demand for agriculture and food products.
Zeigler reminded the audience that the U.S. is an agricultural powerhouse today because of decades of public sector investment in agricultural research that have been the basis for productivity-enhancing innovations. This includes advanced seed varieties, fertilizer and crop protection, precision agriculture and livestock health.
But past success does not guarantee future gains, she said.
Additional investments are urgently needed so farmers have technologies that improve the sustainability of their operations and build resilience against volatile markets, changing weather patterns and outbreaks of crop and livestock diseases.
“China’s public sector investments in agricultural R&D are growing dramatically, while U.S. investments have stagnated for more than a decade,” Zeigler said. “China now spends twice as much on agricultural R&D as the U.S.”
It can take 10 to 15 years to develop a new agricultural technology and make it available to farmers. Given the significant lag time, said Zeigler, agricultural R&D must be a top public policy priority. GHI advocates for such investments, as well as expanding regional and global trade.
Tough Talk about the “Tough Talk” on Trade
In a frank discussion of the current trade climate, trade experts and producer groups said the combative “tough talk” on trade coming from the Trump Administration may be needlessly offending our trading partners and provoking retaliatory tariffs against American agricultural products.
This endangers the livelihoods of farmers at a time when they are already struggling, they said.
Darci Vetter, the U.S. Trade Representative for Agriculture for the Obama administration said when it comes to trade, “words matter and words have consequences.” She urged an approach that was tough, but fair, recognizing that trade is a partnership where both side need to come away with some “wins.”
Chuck Conner, President and CEO of the National Council of Farm Cooperatives said that for U.S. producers, “trade is the business plan.” U.S. agriculture has more than enough capacity to meet domestic demand; the only opportunities for significant growth are through trade.
Trump Administration Offers Reassurance
Speakers representing the Trump Administration sought to allay the fears expressed by the panel.
In his remarks, Greg Doud, the newly confirmed U.S. Trade Representative for Agriculture, stressed “transparency” in trade, saying “it’s time to go back-to-the-basics of trade liberalization and increased market access.”
Ray Starling, Special Assistant to the President for Agriculture, Agricultural Trade, and Food Assistance said, “The U.S. is better off because of our farm families,” adding that the administration is “committed to protecting farmers if countries retaliate.”
Ted McKinney, USDA Under Secretary of Agriculture for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs said, “If trade is an I-win-you-lose approach, it won’t work. We need to talk to our partners about their concerns too. Trade is a two-way street.”
McKinney said he believes the Trump Administration’s efforts will bring benefits for U.S. producers in the long run, but urged the audience to “buckle up” as the road ahead will be bumpy.
See the 2017 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®) to learn how investments in agricultural research and infrastructure, combined with transparent and fair trade agreements, will help improve the productivity and sustainability of U.S. agriculture – benefiting American farmers and consumers around the world.