Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner would like to see Kentucky country ham in Japan and beef in China. Commissioner Ryan Quarles said to make that happen he is adding a full-time international marketing position to his department.
Quarles made the announcement at the Kentucky Commodity Conference in Bowling Green, Thursday, where farmers discussed uncertainty on what President Trump’s next move will be in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Quarles said NAFTA has room for improvement, but while the next round of talks is a couple of weeks away, he wants to begin aggressively seeking international markets at the state level.
“I've decided to not wait on the sidelines with international trade. So I've announced today that I will be hiring a full-time staffer that's going to work nothing but on international trade for agriculture.” Quarles said.
Quarles said Japan is the largest international buyer of American pork and country ham could be a product for a high-end market there.
“Another option would be sending dairy replacement heifers to Mexico; something that is currently being done but maybe we are not reaching our potential there. So this individual will be focused on five or six different issues that are specific to Kentucky.” He said.
“Half of our soybeans, one-fourth of our corn, eighty percent of our tobacco, already ends up overseas.” Quarles said.
According to the US Trade Representative office, Canada is Kentucky’s largest export market at more than $7.8 billion dollars of Kentucky’s total goods, followed by Mexico at $1.9 billion.
“Just last year, it was the Kentucky Department of Agriculture that helped lead the effort to re-open the market for live horses in China. We can do it at the state level in coordination with USDA and our embassies and so it's time for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture to play a proactive role in trade.”
Quarles said he is advocating for two things regarding NAFTA.
“Number one, do no harm for one of the best trading deals that we have.” He said. “Secondly if we are going to make a change to the deal let's make sure that we improve Kentucky's agricultural position within the deal; because there are areas that we can do better. Right now, there is a sticking point with Canadians on dairy, with the 600 plus dairy farms that we have left in Kentucky, this could be a bright spot for them.” Quarles said.
According to Quarles, 19 percent of all Kentucky ag products go to Canada and a significant amount of poultry and grains are imported from Mexico. Trump is threatening to abandon NAFTA unless major changes are made to the 1994 treaty.
The next round of talks is scheduled for the 29th in Montreal, Canada. Quarles said he is confident agriculture will be well represented.