Yellow wheat field

Yellow wheat field and blue sky

Three speakers involved in agriculture trade spoke during the Farm Foundation’s second webinar on the topic of “Managing Agricultural Trade in an Increasingly Chaotic World.”

On July 22, the second of two webinars covered “Sustainability and Efficient Trade.” The goals for this webinar were to “examine how existing agreements and systems may suppress growth and discourage reform, as well as how disruptors and others can effect positive change in multilateral trade dialogues to ensure a global, sustainable future for food.”

Rory McAlpine, senior vice president for government and industry relations with Maple Leaf Foods, spoke from the viewpoint of a century-old business that markets animal and plant protein products internationally.

McAlpine reviewed the risks facing Maple Leaf both by action and by inaction on issues of importance to consumers. He said that Maple Leaf Foods has always been an “early adopter,” for example, by eliminating antibiotics from the livestock it processed, and has found early adoption profitable. McAlpine outlined the program instituted by his company to address carbon emissions and reach the goal of carbon neutrality in all 22 of its production sites. Having established a goal of “carbon neutrality” last fall, Maple Leaf Foods has set its sights on absolute reduction of carbon emissions by 2030.

This declaration has already brought Maple Leaf significant advantages, McAlpine said, including interest rate reductions. As a way to mitigate costs, Maple Leaf is using labeling to inform consumers of the company’s efforts to achieve carbon neutrality and even zero carbon emissions. And, such labels seem to be catching on with consumers. McAlpine emphasized the need for global adoption of environmental regulations.

Trade agreements, and the World Trade Organization help ensure standardization and compliance, reducing regulatory differences between nations.

Bill Bryant, founder and chairman of Bryant Christie Inc., has built his career on international trade negotiation and agreements for the U.S.

Bryant dicussed trade policy and the necessity of adaptive and evolving policy negotiations. He wants trade agreements to ensure stable food supply chains across borders but also respond to environmental concerns. The problem for negotiating trade agreements now is, as he framed it, “reducing regulatory differences between countries.”

Bryant said environmental provisions improve the likelihood of support for a trade agreement. He attributes this to the growing middle classes throughout the world.

“Around the world, middle classes demand environmental protection,” he said.

Trade policy cannot be uncoupled from production policy and the environmental impact of that production — whether looking at plastic pollution, carbon emissions, or any of the other critical sustainability issues.

Best practices and standards must be part of future trade agreements, Bryant said. Bryant pointed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement as examples of the inclusion of environmental standards in international trade agreements. The environmental standards included not rolling back current environmental regulations, endangered species protection, sustainable fishing and logging policies.

A significant danger to environmental protections in WTO trade agreements, Bryant said, is the current requirement that all of the countries involved agree to comply.

The final speaker was Mac Marshall, vice president of marketing intelligence for the United Soybean Board.

According to Marshall, 60% of the total U.S. soybean production goes to foreign markets. He said that customers choose to buy U.S. soybean products because of their reliable quality, and recently, because of environmental standards. U.S. soybean farmers are using technology, Marshall said, to increase and improve adoption of environmental practices. In response to consumer demands, the United Soybean Board and its members have endorsed U.S Soy Sustainable Production Standards, which are based on transparency and harmonization, which means all producers are operating with uniform standards of production.

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