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Northam wants to expand Virginia’s international trade

Virginia’s largest industry is poised to play a big role in growing America’s brand globally.

Leaders from Virginia’s government, agricultural and economic sectors took part in the March 30 Governor’s Conference on Agricultural Trade to discuss opportunities for enhancing agricultural exports. The 13th annual event was held virtually this year and was sponsored in part by Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. 

Gov. Ralph Northam said agricultural leaders will continue to foster new markets for Virginia exports. 

“Our goal is aggressive,” he said. “In the next 15 years, we will expand Virginia’s international trade output by nearly 50%. That would put us in the top 20 states for exports by 2035. If we can do that, we’ll add close to $18 billion in annual exports to our current $36 billion generated.”

Northam said he looks forward to increased stability in trade relationships with key partners worldwide.

Agricultural leaders and economists logged in from China to Washington, D.C., including U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. He outlined how agricultural trade is essential to President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” initiative. 

While the past few years have been challenging for American agriculture, Vilsack is optimistic about the future as commodity prices improve and trade increases. He explained the trajectory can be bolstered by expanding American exports, strengthening relationships in the markets, cultivating an international presence and diversifying trading partnerships.

He said farmers should anticipate “incredible opportunities for American agriculture” as the middle class grows in Southeast Asia.

“In Asia, we anticipate and expect in the next 15 years there will be an increase in middle-class consumers by 3.5 billion people,” Vilsack said. “That’s 10 times the population of the U.S., so it makes sense to have opportunities in Southeast Asia.”

Virginia’s farmers showcase the American brand—one that is innovative, places a premium on safety and practices sustainability, he said.

“Virginia has great producers and a governor who understands the importance of trade, and a tremendous diversity of products you can provide, and the ability to literally do business all over the world, as you are today,” Vilsack said. 

Several experts weighed in, including Dr. John Newton, American Farm Bureau Federation’s chief economist, who said the farm economy is moving in a positive direction with the highest crop prices in years. Production has far outpaced the industry’s carbon footprint — feeding and clothing more Americans than ever — and expanding trade abroad, he said.

“We’re producing 150 times more agricultural products than we did 30 years ago,” Newton said.