The trend across the globe today is a mighty force: Human Freedom. For the forces of liberty are everywhere ascendant. The holdouts, desperate and destitute places, such as North Korea and Cuba, are only the exceptions that prove the rule that free minds and free markets are the most powerful tools yet discovered for increasing human prosperity and the wealth of nations.
The revolution takes place on many levels. Within the confines of each nation, the trend embodies the privatization of formerly government-owned industries and the deregulation of private enterprise. Within regions, the movement is to reduce trade barriers and make commerce easier.
Here in the United States, the U.S./Canada Free Trade Agreement has broadened to become NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, incorporating the U.S., Canada, and Mexico with hopes that Chile and other countries in North and South America might be covered in the not-too-distant future. And, of course, internationally there is GATT. Though not yet ratified, this agreement serves as the largest tax cut the world has ever known, reducing the burden on an international trade almost everywhere.
And everywhere this trend expands prosperity follows in its wake. Sure there are adjustments, often severe adjustments, as individuals and certain industries that have long enjoyed protection from competitors are forced to compete. But consumers everywhere are benefitting from new choices and better prices as the world uses its resources more efficiently and productively.
Unfortunately, the food and agriculture industry has not been in the vanguard of this change. In fact, it has most definitely been bringing up this change. Much of the resistance to freer trade is led by farm groups. Countries go along for many reasons, not least the political power of farmers, often enhanced by slow redistricting, which enables farmers to maintain political power they possessed when farmers constituted a far larger portion of the population.
But there are other concerns when food and agricultural is involved. National security – countries worry about the vulnerability of depending on foreigners for food (Japan without domestic rice). Cultural integrity – food is closely related to nationality and culture and so it strikes a deep emotional chord with people (German beer is part of being German).
But all these matters are fading as people begin to realize the cost of remaining isolated. That is why GATT is so important. For the first time it is encompassing agricultural products and, in doing, the point is being made explicitly: Food is no longer different. All products and all industries must be prepared to compete internationally.
For American producers of food and agriculture, it is an exciting thought. In many agricultural products, the United States is deemed to have a competitive advantage, with fertile soil, good climate, skilled farmers, good transportation and access to high-technology. In the manufactured food products area, many American producers are optimistic. They believe that just as the world has embraced American popular culture in the form of movies and music, so will the world embrace American eating habits. And they point to the worldwide growth of American fast-food chains as proof.
Of course, we are far from the brave new world of open trading on all food and agricultural products. Even assuming GATT is ratified, there will still be plenty of tariffs and quotas for a very long time to come. And phytosanitary and other obstacles, both justified and non-justified, still stand in the way of completely free trade.
There also will be pain and suffering aplenty in the U.S. as those crops that have received government support, particularly the big grain crops, sugar, and dairy are weaned from the programs and have to compete at world price levels. Some will not succeed.
Despite the pain of the transition though, the movement to freer trade is both a good thing and in accordance with the world in which we live. Today, when a speck of silicon in the form of a microprocessor can combine with satellite transmission and fiber-optics to bring the whole world to a laptop computer, the very meaning of boundaries is called into question.
A traditional form of peacemaking in most societies is sitting down together and breaking bread. The sharing of a meal and good wine is convivial, and offering a repast is a traditional sign of hospitality. So as the borders marked on maps blur in a whirl of computers, perhaps sharing food among the people of the world may be a way of bringing us together and helping to keep the peace.
Here at American Food and Ag Exporter magazine, we pledge to redouble our efforts to present to you what you need to know to source food and agricultural products from the United States of America. And perhaps we can all think of our jobs in a bit grander terms. As we bring food to the people of the world, perhaps we also help further international understanding and amity.
Thank you for your time in reading this magazine. All of us have worked hard to produce it. Please let me know how we can do a better job for you. Use the reader service cards in this issue, write us a letter, fax us a response, give us a call. Or, if you are on any of the online services or the Internet send me an e-mail message. You can reach me at [email protected] or [email protected]. It’s a big world, but enlightened policy, new technology, the food and ag industry and this magazine are bringing us all a little closer together