Feeding Our Growing Planet by Opening More Markets

October 16, 2014
A Farmer Harvests Wheat in a Field in Kansas

When people ask pointed questions about the United States -- from its role in the world to its future in this globalized century -- they need look no further than the corn and soybean fields of Iowa and the great American heartland. They feed the dinner tables of the world, they bring jobs to America, and they speak to who we are as a people.

But there’s more. American agriculture, from our farmers to our seed companies to our manufacturers and distributors, is one of our nation’s most valuable assets -- not only because it does all these things, but because it remains an indispensable leader in our collective food security efforts.

Secretary of State John Kerry has long recognized that, in his words, “economic policy is foreign policy.” And that’s why my bureau -- the Economic and Business Affairs Bureau of the U.S. Department of State -- is doing everything it can to support American agriculture, from opening markets to advocating for American business interests from our many embassies around the world.

We recognize good numbers when we see them. The agricultural sector has enjoyed its five strongest years in trade in the history of the United States. Its exports grew from $98.5 billion in 2009 to $144.1 billion in 2013 and its trade supports almost one million jobs at home.

We believe the reason for those impressive figures is simple enough -- the sheer vibrancy of our American crops, livestock, agricultural equipment, and advanced agricultural technology. Preserving that vibrancy isn’t just critical for our economy, it’s a matter of national security, as the United States works with the global community to address the needs of a rapidly growing world population.

Right now, more than 800 million people are chronically undernourished. While that figure has gone down by more than 100 million over the last decade, we will still have to increase world food production by 60 per cent if we are going to meet the demands of nine billion people by the year 2050 -- the estimated world population for that year. Not only that, we’ll have to respond to other food-security challenges, such as the effects of extreme weather, famine, as well as economic and political instability.

Clearly, American crops, livestock, agricultural equipment and advanced agricultural technology will be critical in meeting those challenges. So we are working closely with the Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Trade Representative, and other federal agencies to step up efforts to open markets -- especially Asian markets -- so we can export more of our extraordinary agricultural products around the world.

One of our most ambitious efforts ever to open markets in Asia and the Pacific region is the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP). Working with 11 countries in the Pacific region, our trade negotiators are aiming for an agreement that will sharply lower tariffs and technical barriers to trade, liberalize investment, and set high-standard trade rules.

These include new and enforceable rules to ensure that measures to protect food safety and plant and animal health are transparent, predictable, and non-discriminatory. Once implemented, the TPP will create jobs and growth in the United States and across the Asia-Pacific region.

We are also working to improve food security, in part through promoting biotechnology.

While there is considerable political debate about the subject, we believe it’s critical that more countries develop improved, science-based regulatory frameworks, so they can develop crops and plants that are responsive to changing conditions. We are also involved in projects aimed at reducing post-harvest loss and promoting responsible agricultural investment.

These are some of the messages that I am bringing to Iowa, as I attend the World Food Prize ceremony -- and meet with some of the aforementioned actors in the agricultural sector, including farmers, seed companies, equipment manufacturers, trading companies and distributors, and bio-scientists.

On this trip, I’ll also be visiting a soybean farm, which will, no doubt, trigger fond childhood memories of a soybean farm in Lacrosse, Indiana, where I once lived.

Back then, I was a boy lost in the joys of playing inside silos and diving into a sea of perfectly round soybeans. This time, my memories will be attended by a deeper sense of purpose about our country’s economic well-being and future.

About the Author: Ambassador Charles H. Rivkin serves as Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs. Follow the Ambassador on Twitter at @AmbRivkin.

Editor’s Note: This entry originally appeared as an op-ed in the Des Moines Register.

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