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The Illinois Farm Bureau is looking forward to more trade opportunities with the United Kingdom — a trade partner already “integral” to the state’s ag community.

“We see great opportunity and are motivated to help get these talks on the front burner,” farm bureau President Richard Guebert Jr. said. “Trade has always been important to farmers across not only Illinois, but across the Midwest.”

Negotiations on a free-trade agreement have stalled under the Biden administration, but U.K. officials indicated to a group of Illinois agriculture leaders last week that the nation is “ready to go.”

“And of course, agriculture is a huge, huge part of any” such trade deal, Alan Gogbashian, consul general at the British Consulate in Chicago, said during an agriculture roundtable. “And sitting here in the Midwest, where agriculture plays such a significant part of the economy, it’s important for us that agricultural voices in the Midwest are heard, and your questions, your concerns or interests are fed in and they help shape the negotiation.”

The virtual meeting, organized by U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, included state leaders from the farm bureau, the Illinois Department of Agriculture, agribusiness and county farm bureaus, as well as officials from the British Consulate and Embassy.

Topics ranged from the status of the trade negotiations to new market potential and domestic ag issues in the U.K.

“It’s an interesting time in the U.K. with Brexit being finalized not too long ago, and what implications that could have positively and possibly negatively with the E.U. and U.S. trade agreements,” Davis said.

Illinois Department of Agriculture Director Jerry Costello touted the state’s transportation options, as well as its ag stats:

  • It is the No. 1 producer of soybeans, No. 2 for corn and No. 4 for pork production.
  • It also leads the country in processed-food production.
  • One in 4 jobs in the state are in some way ag-related, and the economic impact of the industry to the state totals about $19 billion.

“So there are so many things that we have to offer. But having great trade partners like the U.K. is so integral to everything that we do in agriculture,” Costello said. “We’re strong advocates for free trade. ... We’re always trying to find ways to help our farmers and our manufacturers, but that also means helping and working with our trading partners.”

In 2020, about $73 million worth of food and agriculture was exported to the U.K. And the U.K. is Illinois’ 17th largest food and agriculture market.

“There’s unlimited potential as far as what we can all do working together,” Costello said.

Trade negotiations between the two nations began in May 2020, extending to the presidential election, at which time they stalled.

“We are keen to get back to the negotiating table and not abandon the really good progress that we’ve made,” said Jennifer Groover, senior policy adviser for trade and agriculture for the U.K.

Since Britain left the European Union, Groover said is has negotiated a “very robust” number of trade agreements, noting that its most recent with Australia marked its 64th.

When the U.K. left the European Union, it also left the Common Agricultural Policy. Roughly one-third of the E.U. budget goes to that policy, and much of that is in support of direct payments.

“Many U.K. producers have become reliant on those payments, and about nearly half of all U.K. farms would not survive if they did not have that payment system,” Groover said. “But of course, now the U.K. is establishing its own agricultural policies, and it’s mind-blowing in a sense. ... You’re not working from a farm bill from cycle to cycle, but instead actually standing up new policies that will work best for U.K. producers and consumers.”

Opportunity was a running theme throughout the discussion.

“Between the U.S. and U.K., from agricultural colleges and land-grant institutions ... to companies who are doing amazing, innovative work, there’s room here for innovation, particularly in the agritech space,” Groover said. “You don’t necessarily think of the U.K. as an agricultural powerhouse, but when it comes to agritech, and when it comes to leading in some of these really innovative things, the U.K. very much is in that space.”

The U.K. also recently announced it will expand ethanol blends in the country from E5 to E10 starting later this year.

This story was distributed through a cooperative project between the Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association.

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