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International Group of Farmers Foresees Protectionism

NAFTA Talks And Brexit Could Have Global Effects.

A sense of growing protectionism is leading farmers in many countries to scramble for new markets, a panel of growers from five continents said at a meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, Tuesday that’s tied to World Food Prize events this week.

The signs are widespread, from India using nontariff barriers against fumigation to block Canadian pulse crops to the potential of Brexit in England to block New Zealand’s access to markets in the European Union.

New Zealand farmers are already facing barriers to their products in Britain, said Mel Poulton, who with her husband, Mike, raises lamb, beef and wool on 2,500 acres in New Zealand; 95% of that is exported.

“There are open doors to us in China, which we are fully embracing,” Poulton said at the 2017 Global Farmer Roundtable sponsored by the Global Farmer Network. The group was started by former American Farm Bureau President Dean Kleckner and several farmer leaders from commodity groups and was originally called Truth About Trade and Technology.

Andrew Osmond, a British farmer who raises sheep, grass seed, and malting barley, said he didn’t vote for Brexit, the shorthand term for Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. He’s worried about the loss of export markets to Spain and Portugal.

Osmond worked with others for a decade to open up a market in Morocco for a specialty wheat used in biscuits. He expects British farmers to do more export promotion.

“As farmers in the U.K., we’d better get out there and go and look and ask,” he said.

Hanging over Tuesday’s event was news that talks in Washington to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement had broken down and likely will be extended into 2018.

If NAFTA collapses, economists are predicting that Canada will go into a recession, said Jake Leguee, who farms 12,000 acres of small grains, pulses, soybeans, and flax with his family in Saskatchewan. That country exports 75% to 80% of its grain, he said.

“Now the looming shadow over all this is President Trump,” whose views on trade between Canada, the U.S., and Mexico seem to change daily, he said.

Although he sees the same protectionist trends around the world, Argentine farmer Pedro Manuel Vigneau is more optimistic.

“We had 12 years of a government that just said goodbye to the world,” he said. “We are starting to say hello to the world again.”

A new government in Argentina has eliminated that country’s export tariffs on corn and wheat, he told Beginning in January, it will start lowering the soybean export tariff by 0.5% per month, or 6% annually.

When asked how farmers in Argentina compete on the global market, he said, “We are efficient farmers.” More than 90% of Argentina’s crops are grown using no-till. The country also has some of the world’s largest crushing facilities and it exports biodiesel. It had been blocked from the European Union. “Now we are reopening the European market,” he said.

Argentina’s protectionism was the result of a populist movement that targeted farmers, he said. Farmers then became more involved in working to change export policies.

Each year the group honors a farmer with the Kleckner Award, given this year to Motlatsi Musi of South Africa. Musi started working for a white farmer at age 9 when his mother was jailed for being an anti-apartheid activist. In 2003 he began farming on a small plot of land through a redistribution program. He credits part of his success to being able to plant genetically modified corn, which is not available in some other African nations.


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