Ambassador tours swine facility near Washington

By Brad Dornes

WASHINGTON, Kan. — Nguyen Quoc Cuong, the Vietnamese Ambassador to the U.S., visited a swine finishing facility near Washington Wednesday in an attempt to further the trade relationship between the United States and Vietnam.

Ambassador Cuong, whose two-day trip included a meeting with Gov. Sam Brownback, said for the past 25 years Vietnam’s Gross Domestic Product has grown by 7 or 8 percent each year.

“Our economy is developing very quickly,” Cuong said. “Our relationships between countries like us and the U.S. are growing just as quickly and the linchpin of it all is agriculture.”

Vietnam, which is about twice the size of Kansas, has a population of approximately 89 million — Kansas has just 3 million people — and is one of the world’s leading pork-consuming countries.

Cuong said his visit to Kansas allowed him to get a better understanding of how pork is produced in the United States.

“The U.S. is great at producing beef and pork,” he said. “But now seeing how safe and the hygiene of the animals, some of the best quality products are from Kansas and I hope we can continue to build our relationship.”

The first step toward establishing that relationship was in November 2009 when President Obama announced the United States’ intentions to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an Asia-Pacific trade agreement involving nine countries. Those countries besides the U.S. include Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

Nick Giordano, vice president and counsel of international affairs for the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), said if the TPP partnership is finalized with everything that is being discussed, it could have great benefits not just for American swine producers but for the entire country.

“Pork is by far the number one meat consumed in southeast Asia,” Giordano said. “And if tomorrow all the tariffs and impediments were gone, in 10 years this partnership could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to America.”

The Asia-Pacific markets are already a huge destination for U.S. manufactured goods, agricultural products and service providers. As a group, the TPP countries are the U.S. third largest goods export market and fourth largest services export market. In 2009, the U.S. total exports to the region totaled $618 billion, which $71 billion was of agricultural products.

Dermot Hayes, an Iowa State University economics professor, has estimated that within a decade of the Trans-Pacific Partnership being put in place, the U.S. will export $800 million to the region.

“There is a lot of opportunities for us, but there is a lot of work to be done and it’s a complicated process so all we can do is keep producing at farms like where we are today,” Giordano said.

Accompanying Ambassador Cuong throughout his trip was First District Congressman Tim Huelskamp. “We love to showcase what we do here in the First District and the rest of the state to anyone that is interested,” Huelskamp said. “There is great potential to expand our trade with these foreign countries and show the world the high quality products that are produced right here in our great state.”

The ambassador said his trip was vital to understanding first-hand what goes on at American swine facilities.

“I’m very impressed by the facilities and how healthy and safe the animals are,” he said. “Now we must focus on getting this partnership done so everyone can start to benefit.”

At the announcement of the TPP, President Obama said he wanted it completed by the end of 2011 but Cuong and Giordano said it would more likely be completed sometime in 2012.

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