International trade - Livingston travels overseas to discuss trade opportunitiesWritten by Saige Albert
After being appointed to American Farm Bureau’s Trade Advisory Committee while serving on the organization’s Board of Directors, Wyoming Farm Bureau President Perry Livingston traveled to Geneva, Switzerland and Brussels, Belgium with a delegation of seven others to explore international trade issues faced in agriculture.
“We’ve always felt that it was important that we try to get as many people involved in world trade as possible,” Livingston comments. “This year, we had the opportunity to travel abroad and visit with a number of different people.”
The delegation of farmers and ranchers had the opportunity to meet with a number of officials, including World Trade Organization (WTO) Director General Roberto Azevedo, the WTO Director of Agriculture and Commodities and trade ambassadors from Brazil, Japan, Australia, India, China and Canada.
After arriving in Geneva on Sept. 15, Livingston notes that the group met with U.S. Ambassador Michael Punke, who also serves as Deputy United States Trade Representative, United States Trade Representative Deputy Chief Chris Wilson and the U.S. Mission Agriculture Minister and Senior Attaché.
“We went over the issues they were facing at that time,” Livingston says. “The top issue was the Bali Agreement.”
He explains the WTO met on Sept. 16, where India formally announced their withdrawal from an agreement reached in Bali, Indonesia in December 2013 because they weren’t satisfied with the language of the agreement. The withdrawal effectively blocked the agreement.
Livingston says, “India transitioned to a new government, and the new government wasn’t pleased with the verbage of the agreement. These unilateral agreements require all the countries of the WTO to agree before they go forward.”
The opportunity to be present when such a large event was taking place was exciting, he adds.
“We talked about the issues they were concerned with,” Livingston comments. “It has a lot to do with stockpiling food for their poor.”
In addition to being in Geneva while the WTO met, Livingston notes they met with ambassadors from Canada, the European Union, Brazil, Australia and India.
“We had these meetings scheduled long before the Bali agreement meetings were scheduled,” Livingston says. “When we met with the Indian ambassador, it had been less than 24 hours since her government backed out of the agreement.”
The opportunity to meet with the Indian ambassador was both unique and a great opportunity to understand the issues of other countries, he says.
“Each country has different issues with the way the U.S. does trade with them,” Livingston says.
Livingston comments that many countries are concerned with the current U.S. Farm Bill and support for insurance programs supported in the bill.
“Of course, they also have the same support issues we have,” he explains. “It is a two-way street, though.”
In the European Union, he says they are protective of their farmers, and consequently, the countries have developed trade barriers to protect the ability of local farmers to remain in business.
“I have never had much interaction with world trade issues on a day-to-day basis,” Livingston notes. “I found it extremely interesting to learn about concerns from their countries.”
After three days in Switzerland, the group traveled to Brussels, Belgium, where the European Union (EU) is headquartered.
“There are 26 countries involved in the European Union, and they have an ag organization called Copa-Cogeca,” Livingston explains, noting that the organization includes farmers and cooperatives from across the EU. “The Secretary General from the organization is a corn and soybean farmer from southern France named Pekka Pesonen.”
Pesonen asked the advice of AFBF in dealing with GMOs.
“They have much more radical groups of individual in the EU who oppose GMOs,” Livingston explains. “It was interesting to visit with him about the issues they face. They were looking for help in figuring out how to address GMO concerns.”
Livingston adds that it was interesting to work together with other countries to address similar issues as those we see in the U.S.
The eight board members from AFBF were well received during their trip, Livingston says.
“The eight of us were the largest delegation AFBF has ever taken to Geneva,” he comments. “It made an impression.”
Typically, when interest groups travel abroad, only two to three people are involved, but the larger number made an impact, both on U.S. officials and those from around the world.
“This is something we take very, very seriously,” he says. “Trade is a big part of American agriculture.”
On returning to the U.S., Wyoming Farm Bureau President Perry Livingston attended an American Farm Bureau board meeting where they visited with a trade representative from New Zealand who further emphasized the importance of trade and trade agreements.
“She wanted to share the message that the U.S. needs to understand the importance of the deal we make with Japan in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP),” Livingston says. “Japan is going to be the toughest country to negotiate with, and the deal we make will be the model for all countries in the TPP.”
He adds, “I didn’t realize until that point that the rest of the TPP talks hinge on what the U.S. and Japan hammer out.”
“There is a lot of new information out there, and lots of things I wasn’t aware of,” Livingston says. “I have been sharing that information with people I visit with. It has been very interesting, and it is very important.”
After a weeklong international excursion with American Farm Bureau, Wyoming Farm Bureau President Perry Livingston says, “This trip was a wonderful opportunity, and it changed my opinion about trade.”
Livingston notes that exports are a very important part of the U.S. agriculture industry and the U.S. economy.
“In 2009, our exports were $96.3 billion,” he says. “In 2013, exports had grown to $141 billion. Exports are growing at a very substantial rate.”
He further notes that one-third of agriculture’s outputs leave the country as exports.
“Exports are a really big deal to everyone in agriculture,” he adds. “They affect everyone’s pocketbook.”