U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman earlier this month made the rounds of key exporting states to highlight the importance of exports to small businesses and the regional economy. The trip coincided with a "Made in Rural America" regional forum dedicated to promoting rural exports, which was held at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, Iowa.
In February, the White House's Rural Council launched a "Made in Rural America" export initiative to pull together federal resources so businesses can better take advantage of overseas investment and selling opportunities.
The Rural Council is coordinating with the Agriculture and Commerce departments, the Small Business Administration, the Export-Import Bank, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and other agencies to connect rural business with export information, credit assistance, marketing support and other resources.
It essentially is an agriculture component of President Obama's National Export Initiative designed to double exports by 2015.
Froman told the audience at the regional forum that efforts to produce multilateral trade deals in the Asia-Pacific region and with the European Union could unlock markets for Iowa farmers.
Iowa is the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the United States
, shipping $11.3 billion worth of commodities in 2012. Overall, Iowa exported $13.9 billion in goods last year. Sixty percent of Iowa's exports already go to negotiating partners in the TPP talks, and 16 percent of Iowa exports go to the European Union.
Froman visited several Iowa companies during his trip, including Maxwell-based Kimberley Family Farms, which exports soy and corn to Asia, and Kemin Industries in Des Moines, which manufactures more than 500 specialty ingredients for the feed and food industries, as well as the health, nutrition and beauty market in more than 90 countries.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Iowa ranks seventh in the nation in export-intensity growth, or the growth of exports as a share of GDP.
The Obama administration is committed to bringing down trade barriers, including discriminatory tariffs, through the TPP and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and to enforcing existing trade pacts, Froman said.
"At the end of the day, all of these efforts — opening new markets, deepening our existing economic ties, resolving unwarranted barriers, and enforcing our agreements — create opportunities, but it falls on each of us to seize them," he said.
In Minnesota, Froman visited Jewelry by Johan, a small Internet-based business that launched in 2011 and is exporting via the web platform Etsy, a marketplace for artisans and craftspeople. Johan Rust now employs 30 people and has annual sales of $2 million, a third of which involves exports to almost 30 countries.
Froman also visited with farmers in La Crosse, Wis., to talk about how the pending trade deals can benefit the state.
After participating in an agricultural roundtable and touring the Boeing factory, Froman spoke about why free trade agreements are important exports at the Washington Council on International Trade in Seattle.
"We have a choice: We can help set the rules of the road, consistent with our interests and our values, or we can face a world in which the rules are set by others who do not put the same value on labor and environmental standards, on protecting intellectual property rights, on putting disciplines on state-owned enterprises, on maintaining a free and open Internet. Others are not standing on the sidelines. Neither can we," he said.