Thom Petersen led his first trade mission to Columbia and Peru as Minnesota agriculture commissioner in early June, and the experience provided a first-hand view of the market potential for the state’s farm products.
Although both markets are small, U.S. exports have been increasing due to free trade agreements signed in 2009 with Peru and in 2012 with Columbia. In Colombia, U.S. exports have more than doubled, reaching a record $2.9 billion last year. In 2018, U.S. producers provided 100% of Colombia’s soybean imports, 97% of corn imports and 91% of pork and pork product.
In Peru, U.S. exports were valued at $1.4 billion in 2018, an 8% increase over 2017.
“This changed my view,” he said when asked to reflect on the trip, which included a traveling delegation of farmers and Extension professionals. “They need our products. Lima [Peru] and Bogota [Columbia] both have around 10 million people. Both countries also have a growing middle class, which means their citizens have more disposable income to buy more meat products.”
Meat could play a larger part of their diets, particularly in Peru where 40% of the children have anemia, he said.
“This shows the importance of access to pork, poultry and beef,” he added.
Transportation systems are a vital component in accessibility, too. Petersen said there was discussion in Columbia about how long and how much it costs to move imported product. The group was told that a millers’ and buyers’ group had tracked down costs to ship product to Bogota and to its milling destination. They found that it cost just as much to get product to ports as it cost to move it to Bogota.
“There’s only one road [to get it there],” Petersen said. “Plus, product could sit for days in port. So, it’s quicker for them to get product from Argentina or Brazil.”
According to U.S. Census Bureau Trade data, Minnesota exported $33 million in agricultural and agricultural-related products to Columbia in 2018 with pork and pork products, corn, soybean meal, pulses and dairy products as the top commodities exported. Ag exports to Peru in 2018 totaled $13.6 million with dairy products, feeds and fodders, and poultry meats and products as top commodities exported.
The trade delegates’ goal was to look for ways to expand markets for Minnesota beef, pork, poultry, corn and soybean exports.
“With all the recent focus on tariffs and trade barriers, we need to find ways to bolster, not break down, our trade relations in ag export markets,” Petersen said. “We lost our big bucket, China, temporarily. So, we have to fill smaller buckets with trade from southeast Asia, Columbia, Peru. When we do get China back, we’ll help out farmers enormously.”
The delegation was in Bogota, Colombia from June 4-5 and in Lima, Peru June 6-7.
Along with MDA, representatives from the state’s beef council, corn growers, pork board, pork producers, soybean growers, soybean research and promotion, turkey research and promotion, chicken and egg organizations, Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation, Minnesota Farmers Union and University of Minnesota Extension participated.