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Fed by Trade

The world is fed by trade, pure and simple

It’s just a fact that some areas of the world can produce certain crops and livestock more efficiently than other areas. An Iowa farmer’s soy crop might end up in China, but the coffee in her breakfast mug probably came from Colombia, sweetened with sugar from Mexico.

Moreover, the purchase of that farmer’s soy provided her with a job and an income, just as the coffee and sugar provided those things at various points along the trade supply chain to the people who grew, processed, marketed and retailed the coffee and sugar that ended up in that cup.

Trade is everywhere, just below the surface, in most of the goods we use and consume every day.

Cargill’s beef processing plant in Schuyler, Neb., with its 2,200 employees, for example, owes its existence to trade. It would not be processing 5,000 head of cattle day—raised and sold by U.S. farmers and ranchers—if not for the customers in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and other Asian nations who purchase that beef.

And on the other side of the world, the Cargill Protein Group’s sales teams who work in those countries would not be employed catering to Asian consumers’ growing demand for U.S. beef.

The fact is agricultural trade transforms beef into more than just food; it transforms that traded beef into opportunities—the opportunity to raise and process a high-quality product for a demanding international market, and the opportunity to sell and consume that product in a region where it cannot be efficiently produced.

A balanced view: what trade can and cannot do

Trade clearly does create economic opportunities. But at the same time, trade alone cannot solve every social and economic problem. When we have unrealistic expectations about what trade can and cannot do, it becomes easier to expect trade to cure all ills—and when it fails to do so, to blame trade for every negative event.

Trade cannot, for example, bring back businesses and jobs lost because of automation or more efficient technology, or which disappeared due to changing consumer preferences or demographic shifts. Nonetheless, trade often takes unfair blame when businesses go under and jobs are lost.

On the other hand, we also need to recognize what trade can do. For example, it’s a fact that we pay less for groceries and other consumer goods because of trade. And it’s a fact that more than half of the U.S. manufacturing workforce depends on exports—and that one-third of U.S. farmland is planted for export, supporting jobs in agriculture and related industries.

So we need to be honest about trade. And rather than scapegoat trade for every casualty of shifting markets, we need to train workers and prepare them for a constantly changing world.

If we do that, we can all stay ahead of the game, and continue to enjoy the benefits of trade.

More in this section:

Why Trade Matters

Cargill’s business is feeding a hungry world. That means that food must be able to move to where it is needed, when it is needed—across countries, continents and oceans.

NAFTA in a Nutshell

The North American Free Trade Agreement has provided the United States, Canada and Mexico with mutual access to one another’s markets for nearly 25 years.