From the tractor
by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler
I wrote last month about an upcoming trade mission to China and I wanted to provide a brief update on our visit. We had a successful trip and I am optimistic the foundation we were able to build on through our visits and contacts will pave the way for increased sales this year and beyond.
I’ve been pleased to learn our visit has already generated a number of leads and at least one follow-up call to buy North Carolina cotton.
One of the things that convinced me to go on this trip was the fact that Chinese culture places a great deal of emphasis on official rank and position, and by my going, our delegation would be able to meet with leading Chinese officials.
One of the most encouraging meetings I had was with Commissioner Jiang Chenkeng, the head of China’s State Tobacco Monopoly Administration. We had a great meeting, and he expressed interest in high quality leaf and in building a long-term relationship with North Carolina that would be mutually beneficial.
Commissioner Jiang also indicated an interest in opening a North Carolina office, which I would welcome.
One thing I found particularly interesting was the fact the Chinese economy grew by 9 percent last year, even in the midst of a global recession. The country is experiencing a growing middle class. An outgrowth of that increased affluence has been that people are adding more protein to their diets.
In 2008, we exported $271 million worth of commodities to China, including pork, poultry, soybeans, tobacco and cotton, but the potential is far greater as China’s economy expands.
There are roughly 330 million smokers in China, and with growing regulations and taxes on tobacco products here in North Carolina and the United States, we are going to need to develop new markets. I have heard projections that we would need to export 80 percent of our tobacco in the future. If we are able to enter the Chinese market in a bigger way, that would be significant for the industry.
China represents a great opportunity for North Carolina exports, and I am glad we made the trip. Building business relationships takes time, but in the end having strong trading partners will benefit us all.
I enjoyed the trip and enjoyed seeing a part of the world I had never been to before, but I am grateful and happy to be home.
In 2008, we were successful in obtaining grants through the Tobacco Trust Fund, and once again, the department has secured grants to support, promote and boost sales of North Carolina agricultural products. The department received a total of $525,000 for three grants. The money will be used in marketing North Carolina commodities through the Got to Be NC Agriculture program and through the Agricultural Review. Part of the grant will go towards research aimed at expanding the marketing window for N.C. strawberries.
The Got to Be marketing campaign started as a grass-roots effort with a very limited budget. We used the sides of our Food Distribution trucks to carry the message of “buy North Carolina commodities” across the state. Since those meager beginnings, we have been successful in securing funds from the Golden LEAF Foundation, N.C. General Assembly and the Tobacco Trust Fund to take this message to a larger audience. Food businesses have seen an increase in sales, and most importantly, more people are recognizing North Carolina products in stores.
There is a growing “buy-local movement” under way, and we don’t need to miss this opportunity to tap into that momentum. We’ll use the grant monies to help get that message in front of shoppers.
I want to thank the Tobacco Trust Fund for its support of department efforts to raise awareness and sales of North Carolina products.