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South Dakota: Ag Summit explores export market

At the 2012 Governor’s Ag Development Summit, held June 27 in Pierre, SD, Governor Dennis Daugaard told attendees: “South Dakota has the land, the people, the drive, and the opportunity to build this important economic sector for the next generation. We must look for ways – right now – to bring in quality development that will help keep agriculture as South Dakota’s number-one industry.”

The Summit celebrated the importance of agriculture for the state’s economy and explored ways to increase international trade and exports to provide more opportunities for livestock and grain producers. One of the featured speakers at the Summit was Ambassador Islam Siddiqui from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. He discussed free-trade agreement negotiations and their role in international trade.

Siddiqui told attendees that the Obama administration has a goal of doubling U.S. export markets by 2014. According to Siddiqui, since 2009, exports have increased by 34 percent, and agriculture has expanded by 39 percent.

“The livestock industry is a resilient one and has done very well in terms of exports,” said Siddiqui. “In 2011, U.S. beef exports set a record high of $5 billion. The pork industry, in spite of dealing with H1N1, surpassed $7 billion. There is a clear relationship between job creation and exports.”

For example, securing an agreement with South Korea resulted in $7 billion in exports last year, with another $1.9 billion to be added in the upcoming year. This business created more than 15,000 additional jobs, according to Siddiqui.

Joining Siddiqui in an exporting and international trade panel was Dean Gorder with the North Dakota Trade Office, who explained that 95 percent of the nation’s agriculture customers live outside of the U.S.

“Advocacy and education is so important on our trade missions,” Gorder said. “There are clients around the world who will pay for a superior product that has a guarantee of food security and food safety. We do quarterly trade missions. It’s important to get out there and meet these folks face-to-face. What we have found is reverse trade missions, where these buyers from Asia come to the Midwest, really blows the customer away. They are so impressed by the wide open spaces and our ability to grow crops and livestock the way we do.”

Gorder works to create these business relationships between local producers and foreign buyers.

“There are 44 different crops grown in North Dakota, and our office works as a matchmaker,” he explained. “We introduce North Dakota companies to a buyer somewhere around the world. One of our biggest jobs is to help companies understand the challenges with trade partners. We help these companies work through potential pitfalls.”

Regulatory pitfalls seem to be the most common issue, with more buyers wanting to ensure processes used in the U.S. meet their own standards.

“One thing that keeps me up at night is more trade barriers,” Siddiqui admitted. “For example, Russia banned U.S. poultry products because we use chlorine to disinfect our products. This was a big loss for us. It took six months to come up with a pathogen reduction treatment that was feasible and acceptable to Russia.”

Michelle Rogowski, Food Export Association (FEA) of the Midwest, who also spoke on the panel, explained how her office assists small producers, retailers and organic and natural farmers to market their products.

“We focus on helping small and medium enterprises,” Rogowski said. “We have 12 member agencies, including the South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA), and through that membership, SDDA is able to offer our services to food producers here in South Dakota. We have a market access program, as well as educational services to interested parties to learn more about documentation, labeling and other export requirements. We help producers establish a strong market by providing a list of distributors who may be interested in the products.”

To date, 15 South Dakota companies participate in the program and reported just under $1 million in sales in 2011. F

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