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Steve Forbes on Ag Trade: It Will Happen

Business leader weighs in on ag trade and ag tech.

“Amend it, don’t end it.”

That’s Steve Forbes’ take on the current trade negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Forbes, speaking to a group of ag tech companies and investors in Des Moines on Thursday, said that there are clear flaws in the current NAFTA agreement – things that are outdated and need to be fixed. “OK, clean it up, you’ve got to update the thing,” he adds.

Recent reports out of Washington indicate that the NAFTA negotiations – which are crucial to agricultural trade – are not going smoothly. The reports are creating frayed nerves with farmers about NAFTA and ag trade in general. Forbes didn’t seem worried. This is the “sausage factory phase,” he said. “You don’t know how much is posturing, negotiating. You just want to get a better deal.”

Forbes, chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media, and a former presidential candidate, said that time is on the side of the U.S. in getting a deal done. He believes that Mexico needs to get a deal before its elections, along with deadlines in the U.S. around next July. “Human nature being what it is, with the prospect of a real deadline, you do get down to brass tacks” and hammer out a deal, he said.

Forbes believes that ag trade deals will get done. “If it goes under, it’s not only going to be bad for agriculture, but bad for the whole economy,” he said.

On Pacific trade, he said, “If we don’t get a grand agreement, we do get deals done with Japan. It’s great Japan was willing to participate in the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) because they usually don’t do those things. Maybe we can get a bilateral deal to bring in Vietnam and Thailand, and other countries.”

He also cited recent acceptance into China of U.S. beef as an example of progress on ag trade.


Forbes was bullish on the current slate of innovative start-ups that are percolating across all dimensions of agriculture. “You can’t stay still,” he said. “We have to become cutting edge” in agriculture technology and production.

He supports the mergers of large companies in agriculture, knowing that big companies will continue to invest in research and development. Fifteen years ago, Monsanto spent $300 million on R&D; today it spends $1.5 billion on R&D, according to Forbes. Bigger ag companies will continue to invest in research, along with aligning with smaller companies through partnerships, licensing agreements, or through acquiring these innovations.

R&D is the key to agricultural advances, Forbes says. “We’ve always been on the cutting edge. You lead the world by being better, smarter.”


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