Increased agricultural exports a must for U.S. producers

In his State of the Union address, President Obama correctly insisted that “Jobs must be our number-one focus in 2010.”   In this uncertain economic climate, when we are experiencing the highest unemployment rate in 25 years, every job is important. 

Few people realize the meat and poultry industry accounts for the largest segment of the U.S. agricultural economy.  Fewer people realize how many jobs the industry generates here at home. 

An economic impact study conducted by the American Meat Institute shows that the meat and poultry industry directly and indirectly employs 6.2 million people, paying almost $200 billion in wages and benefits. The total contribution of the meat and poultry industry in terms of economic output to our economy is more than $832 billion – nearly 6 percent of total GDP. 

Although meat and poultry plants are not located in every American city, our products are transported and sold in every city and town in the country, thereby creating millions of jobs and an economic multiplier effect nationwide.  These are real people, with real jobs working in industries as varied as government, farming, trucking, banking, retail, metalworking, even printing, that all depend, in whole or in part, on the meat and poultry industry for their livelihood. 
What the study also demonstrates is just how important the meat and poultry industry is to the vibrancy of the whole economy.  But our growth potential, and thus our economic potential, is restricted by our market size. 

United States meat and poultry exports have been a major success story over the last two decades, demonstrating that great potential exists for the United States meat and poultry industry in the international trade arena.

With meat consumption rising along with economic development and population in many nations around the world, we have billions of hungry, potential customers.  But if the United States is not there to fill their plates, other major exporting nations will.

The Obama administration must work to expand access to growing international markets for America’s high-quality meat and poultry products, and it can do so by urging Congressional passage of pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia – agreements that have already been signed by the United States. 

These free trade agreements will provide America’s farmers, ranchers, food processors, and the businesses they support with improved access to global consumers while creating more jobs at home.  The American Farm Bureau Foundation estimates that enactment of these three agreements would mean an additional $2.4 billion each year for American agriculture and the U.S. economy. 

Indeed, according to USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, the South Korean Free Trade Agreement alone would be the most economically significant trade agreement for U.S. agriculture in 15 years. 

But all segments of the economy stand to benefit from the international success of the agriculture sector. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that each dollar received from agricultural exports generates another $1.48 in supporting activities to produce the products shipped overseas.

In addition to passing these free trade agreements, we must confront unjust barriers to U.S. exports.  Unfortunately, non-scientific based barriers to international trade have become the norm, rather than the exception.  We need to ensure that meat and poultry trade is governed by guidelines established by the OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) which are sometimes subjugated to protectionism. 

The meat and poultry industry can be proud that companies and individuals in America that produce, process, distribute and sell meat and poultry products continue to be a vital part of the U.S. economy, providing millions of quality jobs in every state and every industrial sector in the country.  During these uncertain economic times, we can do even more. 

I join the Secretary of Agriculture and leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees in urging the Obama administration to push for Congressional approval of the South Korean, Panamanian and Colombian free trade agreements. 

As the president said in his State of the Union address, “The more products we make and sell to other countries, the more jobs we support right here in America.”  I couldn’t agree more. 

Boyle is President and CEO of the American Meat Institute