Industry leaders and government officials remain cautiously optimistic about the future of trade amid rising economic uncertainties and threats against U.S. exports.

Trade experts and business leaders who attended the tenth annual Virginia Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade held in Richmond, Virginia, earlier this month agree that there are opportunities in trade despite a number of risks – the impending steel and aluminum tariffs being the most recent.

Nearly 300 people attended the event, which is co-hosted by the Virginia Tech Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Attendees included food producers, agribusiness representatives, government and academic policy experts, and students representing six universities.

“The overall message and tone at this year’s conference was optimistic, but the presentations and conversations did not shy away from current trade issues and threats either,” said Agricultural and Applied Economics Associate Professor Jason Grant, who also directs the college’s Center for Agricultural Trade.

Attendees spoke openly about the potential impacts tariffs may have, while a growing middle class worldwide, the forthcoming farm bill, plans to update and reinvigorate the North American Free Trade Agreement, and multiple trade champions in state and national governmental positions were all presented as creating new opportunities in trade.

The possibility of the United States reentering the Trans-Pacific Partnership was also gingerly mentioned.

During a panel on NAFTA, both the Ambassador of Canada and the Ambassador of Mexico to the United States, David McNaughton and Geronimo Gutierrz, agreed that there would be more “drama before it’s over,” in the ongoing renegotiations but stressed their belief in a successful deal. They highlighted the contributions NAFTA has had on increasing North America’s competitiveness in world markets and developing substantial three-way trade between Canada, Mexico, and the United States. However, Mexico also confirmed that they have been in talks with other South American countries regarding corn imports, a market in which the U.S. has recently lost 8 percentage points of its traditional market share.

“With the impending metal import tariffs that may incite retaliatory tariffs, Virginia’s nearly $3 billion agriculture and forestry exports stand to be disrupted,” said Grant.

But despite this threat to Virginia’s agriculture economy, conference speakers stressed the importance of maintaining friendly relationships with international trade partners and allies, something Virginia Tech students immediately took to heart.

“It was amazing to see so many influential people in the Ag world in one room,” said Jennifer Callison of Staunton, Virginia, a junior applied economic management major. “Perhaps my favorite part of the conference though was at the very end, when Dr. Crowder gave us the chance to chat with trade representatives from all over the world one-on-one.”

The conference is designed to inform and promote conversations about current agricultural trade issues and patterns, as well as to learn new perspectives on trade agreements and negotiations. Over the past decade, governors, ambassadors, producers, and agribusinesses leaders at the conference have created a forum that has benefited the commonwealth’s agriculture and forestry economy.

Speaking for his first time at the conference, Governor Ralph Northam underscored the importance of agricultural trade to the Virginia economy and stressed his commitment to support trade for Virginia producers.


    - Written by Jillian Broadwell

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