USGC Highlights Global Trade Servicing, Colombian Partnerships At Cartagena Meeting

Highlighting its global presence on a macro level with a micro focus on the U.S. grains market in Colombia, U.S. Grains Council members participated this week at the organization’s 16th International Marketing Conference and 59th Annual Membership Meeting in Cartagena.

The meeting began with a powerful visual demonstration of the Council’s global reach when nine international directors joined USGC President and CEO Tom Sleight on stage for a town hall meeting to address trade policy and trade servicing issues in their markets. Each answered country- or regional-specific questions from meeting attendees on the subjects of corn, sorghum, barley, distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS) and ethanol, touching on subjects including market potential, trade barriers and program priorities.

“It is critical we have these individuals and their respective staff members in the country to help address their country-specific issues to keep markets around the world open for U.S. grains,” said Council Chairman Jim Stitzlein in opening up the panel. “The issues they deal with are diverse and complex, but without them on the ground, we would have a much bigger challenge being successful for the commodities we represent at home.”

More than 330 attendees have gathered in Cartagena, an important port city for the country of Colombia, which is the fourth largest market for U.S. corn and the 10th largest market for U.S. ethanol. A free trade agreement partner with the United States, grains in all forms (GIAF) purchases were up in Colombia by 11.9 percent year-over-year to 6.34 million metric tons (250 million bushels) in 2017/2018 – more than a ten-fold increase since the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 2012.

Other topics covered during the town hall included U.S. corn quality compared to competitors, market impacts resulting from the U.S. federal government shutdown and more. Ethanol became a recurring theme where the U.S. has had successes in such countries and regions as South Korea, Mexico, North Asia, Southeast Asia and China. But the directors did acknowledge trade policy trials including withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, trade challenges with China and anti-dumping and countervailing duties cases in South America that add to the work they do on behalf of feed grains and their related products.

“Our global network of staff in these regions is key to our success,” said Sleight. “In today’s rapidly changing trade environment, our staff includes grain traders, ethanol specialists and nutritionists who address our increasingly sophisticated world markets so we can continue to find homes for U.S. coarse grains, value-added products and ethanol.”

The rest of the afternoon was punctuated by Advisory Team (A-Team) meetings at which Council members helped identify opportunities, set priorities and chart the course for the organization’s overseas operations and its new Unified Export Strategy (UES), a proposal to USDA for the new priorities in the coming marketing year.

On Tuesday, attendees heard from Western Hemisphere trade experts about the importance of the Colombian market to the U.S. feed grains industry.

The event’s general sessions included an update on the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement by Minister Andres Valencia Pinzon from Colombia’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the latest news on the status of U.S.-Colombian relations from Philip Laidlaw, deputy chief of mission, U.S. Embassy in Colombia.

Laidlaw’s presentation was followed by a panel of Colombian industry executives moderated by USGC Director of Trade Policy and Biotechnology Floyd Gaibler, who worked closely with Colombian partners during the FTA approval process, as well as a panel of USGC Western Hemisphere staff working in the market – Marri Tejada, regional director; Ana Maria Ballesteros, marketing director; Juan Diaz, Latin American regional ethanol consultant; and Michael Conlon, agricultural counselor, Office of Agricultural Affairs, U.S. Embassy, Bogota, Colombia.

“The Western hemisphere in general, and Colombia specifically, holds so much promise for U.S. corn, value-added products and ethanol, and we are here on the ground to capture and grow that potential,” said USGC Western Hemisphere Director Marri Tejada. “With the help of USDA’s Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) funds, and now Agricultural Trade Promotion(ATP) dollars, we hope to see commensurate growth in all markets in the region.”

Attendees also heard from National Corn Growers Association CEO Jon Doggett and Mexico and international affairs expert Gabriel Guerra Castellanos on the future of U.S.-Mexico relations and the road to ratification of the U.S-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

The Council’s agenda culminated on Wednesday with the USGC Board of Delegates meeting where attendees heard seven USGC Advisory Team (A-Team) recommendations as well as five commodity sector reports with ideas to help continue expanding U.S. exports of corn, sorghum, barley, DDGS and ethanol.

Find more on the meeting by using the hashtag, #grains19.