Back from a weeklong business trip in China, Kathe Falls had just sat down after giving her keynote address at the 2013 Georgia Ag Forecast event in Rome Jan. 28 when she got the email about Japan finally agreeing to ease long-standing restrictions on U.S. grown beef.
As director of international trade at the Georgia Department of Economic Development, she appreciated getting word about Japan’s new policy since Maggie O’Quinn, executive account manager at Certified Angus Beef LLC, gave her presentation immediately afterwards.
Ms. O’Quinn, who markets the up-scale beef product to retailers and restaurants in the Caribbean, South America and Spanish-speaking areas of the United States, was aware that a new Japan policy was pending, but hadn’t gotten the final word.
The coincidence was emblematic of the annual tour’s purpose this year organized by the University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Science that included Athens, Rome, Macon, Tifton, Bainbridge and Lyons.
While agriculture is the mainstay of Georgia’s economy, the importance of agricultural exports is not widely known, and the means of seizing opportunities such as Japan’s move to open its market to U.S. companies often are overlooked by Georgia producers.
The university decided to place the focus of this year’s tour on the state’s agricultural exports and asked Ms. Falls to be the keynote speaker in each of the participating cities.
In her presentations, Ms. Falls quickly put the importance of agricultural exports into perspective saying that in the past 10 years Georgia’s exports have grown 141 percent to $34.7 billion with more wood pulp, minerals, aluminum, poultry, pecans, and textile floor coverings exported from Georgia than any other state in the U.S.
From 2006 through 2011, Georgia’s agricultural exports rose from $1.15 billion to $2.64 billion with major categories including meat and offal, animal feed, nuts and oil seed, edible preparations and cereals.
While Canada, China, Mexico, Singapore, Japan and Germany were the state’s top export markets, the leading markets for agricultural products were Canada, Hong Kong and Mexico.
Ms. Falls also pointed to the Savannah port’s importance now that it has become the second largest container port in the country for exports with 39 percent of the containers filled with agricultural commodities including wood pulp, food and paper and paperboard.
Her chart of the state’s top 21 agricultural markets also showed some surprises with six-year totals, from 2006-11, of $155 million in exports to Angola; of $146 million to Morocco and of $219 million to Vietnam.
Ms. Falls told Global Atlanta by telephone while on her way from Bainbridge to Lyons that she was anxious to receive the figures for 2012 in February, and was somewhat self-conscious not having the latest figures available.
She was pleased, however, by the participation in the program with Tifton drawing the most with 250 attendees but the other cities doing well such as Bainbridge with 80.
A major goal of the tour, she said, was to encourage smaller firms to become engaged in international trade, and she was positive about her encounters with growers of cotton, pecans, peaches and peanuts.
As a specific example, she was able to refer to a pecan grower who with the assistance of her department had sold $800,000 worth of pecans to an Israeli buyer.
Destination markets in Vietnam and Hong Kong, she added, were currently “exploding,” most likely because a lot of the products would then be headed for China.
Ms. Falls had been in China to explore the possibility of a Small Business Administration supported trade mission there later this year. She visited Shanghai and two cities, Jinan and Qingdao, within Shandong province, with which Georgia is connected through membership in the Regional Leaders Partnership and a memorandum of understanding pledging mutual cooperation.
The partnership includes Bavaria, Germany; Upper Austria; Quebec, Canada; Sao Paulo, Brazil and the Western Cape, South Africa along with Georgia and Shandong.
Georgia plans to open an office in Qingdao this year.
To learn more about Georgia’s international trade programs, click here.