The nation's agriculture secretary announced an Asian trade mission Friday just days after new compacts were signed that are expected to significantly boost farm exports through the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told the Press-Telegram that California farmers are enjoying a record year in food, meat and dairy exports expected to help shatter the nation's agricultural trade surplus.
Vilsack and Commerce Secretary John Bryson are traveling to China and Vietnam in mid-November, two of the local ports' top trading partners, to push for more cooperation and increased agricultural trade between the nations.
"In the past six years, we've seen a 1,000-percent increase in ag trade with Vietnam alone, and China is the country's top trade partner, so any movement we can make is definitely going to benefit California farmers, farm equipment manufacturers and (Southern California) ports," Vilsack said. "This has the potential to create many jobs, and not only in California, but across the country."
Asia has become the fastest-growing market for California's top farm exports, which include tree nuts, vegetables, fruits and dairy products.
As the nation's largest agricultural producer, California's wines, poultry, beef and pork are also increasingly popular in emerging Pacific Rim countries.
Last week, President Barack Obama signed three free-trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia.
While the Panamanian and Colombian deals will have a minimal impact on local ports, the South Korea deal is estimated to boost exports by
$10 billion annually, including about $1.9 billion worth of food and beverage products.
South Korea is currently the Port of Long Beach's third-largest export partner and second-largest import partner.
In 2010, some 4 million metric tons of food was exported through Long Beach, much of it to Asia. A large amount of farming equipment, including tractors, plows and tillers, is also exported locally.
That figure should rise steadily in coming years, Vilsack said.
"Our job during the visit is to try and continue the growth of recent years and reach a multilateral agreement with a number of countries, including Vietnam, by lowering the barriers that currently exist," Vilsack said.
California farmers are expected to post record sales this year, beating the estimated $35 billion in revenue reported in 2010. Of those food and beverage products exported, about half is handled by the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.
Vilsack said part of the trade mission will focus on creating what's known as the Trans-
Pacific Partnership. The plan calls for increased exports, lower tariffs and simplified trade barriers between the U.S. and Singapore, New Zealand, Vietnam, Australia, Chile, Brunei and Peru.
"Farmers this year are enjoying the best year they've had in 40 years when adjusted for inflation," Vilsack said.
Matt Herrick with the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it's expected American farmers will see $137 billion worth of exports and near-record income, and the country will see a record trade surplus of some $42 billion.
"Not many people see or hear about the strength of the ag economy, but it's booming," Herrick said.
The trade mission, recent agreements and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership are all measures related to President Obama's goal to double the value of all U.S. exports from from 2009 levels by 2014.