Ambassador Ron Kirk, President Obama’s U.S. trade representative, paid a visit to North Carolina last week to tout the pending free trade agreement with South Korea. If enacted, the agreement could be a boon to North Carolina farmers by expanding a potentially lucrative export market. The president has instructed Kirk to complete the agreement by November.
I played host to Ambassador Kirk and members of his staff at two stops in Cabarrus County. First, we visited Tommy and Vicky Porter’s poultry and livestock farm in Concord.
Afterward, we met with a group of farmers at a restaurant in Mount Pleasant. The farmers, representing producers of tobacco, row crops, sweet potatoes and livestock, quizzed Kirk about trade issues. Above all, they asked that Ambassador Kirk’s office work to have fair trade with other countries.
I’m a proponent of fair and open trade. Agricultural exports are worth a lot to North Carolina farmers and our state’s economy. The more we can do to open up markets for our agricultural commodities and products, the better off we’ll be.
Besides the Korean trade agreement, other topics of discussion between Ambassador Kirk, the farmers and me included Canada’s recent banning of 5,000 flavorings in tobacco products. The latter issue is of major concern to growers of burley tobacco. Burley tobacco loses sugar during the curing process, leaving it with a bitter flavor. During manufacturing, trace amounts of flavorings are added back to counteract the bitterness.
I am concerned that Canada’s action sets a precedent that could affect exports of burley tobacco. As much as 80 percent of the U.S. burley crop is exported. The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control is considering draft guidelines banning all additives in tobacco products. If all flavorings were banned, it would severely affect burley exports.
Ambassador Kirk said he would monitor the burley issue and would intervene in cases of discrimination against the U.S. Our farmers certainly would welcome his assistance, and I appreciate him taking time to meet with us. I also would like to thank the Porters for allowing us to tour their farm; Marvin Bost and the great folks at Marvin’s Fresh Farmhouse restaurant, for hosting the roundtable; and the staff of our international marketing section, for handling all the arrangements.