Where’s the beef? Well, if it’s raised in Minnesota, it’s increasingly exported worldwide, advancing not just ranchers but the state’s entire economy. In fact, as an aggregate category, first quarter 2017 meat exports spiked 36 percent compared with last year, with $100 million in total sales. It was one of a number of categories that contributed to a 5 percent rise in exports of agricultural, mining and manufacturing products, according to the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.
First quarter exports totaled $4.8 billion, marking the first quarterly increase since the fourth quarter of 2014, according to DEED data. From a percentage standpoint, the greatest growth was in the Australia-Pacific region (up 48 percent to $162 million), but the big volume still hit close to home (exports to North America totaled $1.6 billion, up 2 percent) as well as to Asia (also $1.6 billion, but up 9 percent).
Asian trade might have been higher if President Donald Trump hadn’t scrapped the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact. Indeed, beef exporters lament the loss, Ashley Kohls, executive director of the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association, told an editorial writer.
“We as an industry are disappointed that the TPP was taken off the table,” Kohls said. “For the beef industry specifically, it was probably the best-ever negotiated access into Pacific-rim countries.” That access likely would have helped other sectors, including optics and medical instruments, which was the top export category with sales of $883 million, a 2 percent year-to-year rise. Now, predictably, China is rushing to fill the void.
Given Trump’s previous opposition to TPP, it’s politically unrealistic to think he would reconsider. But he should follow through on his pledge to push for more bilateral trade deals and proceed with caution in his quest to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, especially because disrupting that pact would imperil intricate trade relationships developed over decades.
The Trump administration also should not negate progress with Cuba, wrote Sen. Amy Klobuchar and 13 fellow senators in an open letter to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Minnesota’s entire delegation should push to open markets in order to make rising state exports a more consistent pattern.