Weekly Columns

Our state’s influence in the agriculture industry can be felt around the world. More than 50 percent of the world's population depends on Arkansas rice. While we lead the nation in rice and poultry production, we are near the top for grain, soybeans and cotton as well. Countries around the world are taking notice of our impact on farming and ranching and we’re taking advantage of those benefits. 

I joined Arkansas Congressional Delegation Members Senator Mark Pryor and Congressman Rick Crawford on a recent trip to Panama to enhance trade relations between our countries and promote a partnership between the University of Arkansas System of Agriculture and the government of Panama. 

This unique partnership between the U of A and Panama will offer researchers and students cultural and educational exchanges for agricultural Extension and agricultural education. 

This connection is strengthened by the fact that we are building on an existing relationship. In 1951 the U of A was the first land-grant institution to unite an agriculture foreign mission, establishing a similar program. In addition, Panama’s President Ricardo Martinelli is a true Razorback, having graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1973. We met with the President over lunch and he showed us his Razorback memorabilia including a Razorback football helmet and a picture of Old Main prominently displayed in his office. 

We are all excited about the mutual benefits we will gain from this educational opportunity. Arkansas agriculture producers will also be able to take advantage of trade relations with Panama. The recent approval of the Panama Trade Promotion Agreement provides us with an avenue of economic growth for Arkansas agriculture and expands markets for Arkansas products. 

Last year Congress approved the Panama Trade Agreement. This provides enormous potential for economic growth. This trade pact eliminates tariffs and other barriers on agriculture products leading to an increase in export opportunities for Arkansas commodities. Arkansas exports for all industries to Panama in 2011 accounted for nearly $17 million and we expect that number to increase. 

During our time in Panama we toured the Panama Canal which is in the middle of an extensive upgrade to widen the canal. This will allow for larger container ships to carry more American produced goods to foreign markets in a more efficient manner. This expansion will change the way we move freight in our country and around the globe. 

Arkansas economic development leaders are setting the groundwork to take advantage of this improvement and the trade agreement. Earlier this year representatives from the Arkansas World Trade Center and a handful of Arkansas businesses attended a regional trade show in Panama to feature their products and explore trade opportunities.

Washington needs to focus on job creation, reducing barriers for Arkansas businesses to compete in the global market is a commonsense approach to spurring economic growth. We are excited about the future possibilities with Panama and are encouraged by the partnership between the Panamanian government and the U of A.