By DOUG GRAVES
LEXINGTON, Ky. – After a two-year pause on U.S. Department of Agriculture trade missions, Kentucky Commissioner of Agriculture Dr. Ryan Quarles participated in two international trade development opportunities in an effort to show Kentucky and the United States are ready to accelerate trade talks to benefit farmers.
Quarles’ first trade mission was in February and it took him to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia to focus on food and equine exports. Accompanying him in this trip was USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack.
Quarles and Vilsack traveled to Dubai Feb. 15-24 as part of USDA’s first in-person trade mission in more than two years. While on the trip, Quarles connected with the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders (KTOB) for meetings in Gulf Cooperation Council countries to benefit Kentucky’s world-class horse industry.
The second trip, held in early March, took him to the United Kingdom to engage with high level members of Parliament on a new bilateral agreement with the U.S.
“With people traveling again, I believe it’s important to get back to normal, pursue international trade relationships and put the interests of Kentucky farmers first,” Quarles said. “Any time we can sell more Kentucky agricultural products, that’s a win for our state.”
Quarles said Kentucky exported more than $11 million in agricultural products to the UAE and more than $98 million to the United Kingdom in 2021.
“Anytime we can sell more Kentucky agricultural products, our farm families win,” Quarles said. “Trade benefits our farmers through exports of raw commodities, but also provides revenue to other sectors as well. If we export horses, this is also providing revenue to those providing hay and feed to support the breeding farms here. The same is true for any agriculture products we export. Creating or growing those products translates to jobs here.”
Exports from Kentucky to the United Kingdom include distilled spirits, horses, forestry products (wooden casts and lumber) and tobacco.
Exports to the UAE include corn, hay, forestry products and horses, though COVID reduced the overall number of horses sent in 2021 due to travel restrictions. “Horses to the UAE has been a major export in former years and we expect that again this year,” Quarles said.
“Developing markets for Kentucky farm families is an essential responsibility of mine as Kentucky’s agriculture commissioner,” Quarles said. “Despite disagreeing with President Biden on several policy issues, I appreciate his U.S. Department of Agriculture inviting state agriculture leaders to help open new markets for American farmers.”
“The World Trade Center Kentucky is thrilled that Commissioner Quarles represented the Bluegrass State on these trade missions,” said Omar Ayyash, World Trade Center Kentucky president. “Having worked in the UAE for several years, I know the market well and know that Kentucky businesses and farmers will benefit from his trip. With the UK being one of Kentucky’s top trading partners, it is important our state reaffirm our relationship with them in the post-Brexit era and as we emerge from the pandemic.”
Dame Karen Pierce, British Ambassador to the U.S., extended an invitation to Quarles to participate in a visit for a select group of U.S. agriculture officials. The British-American trade relationship is vital and the U.K. consistently ranks in the top three export destinations for Kentucky agricultural products. The U.S. is the United Kingdom’s largest single trading partner and is the destination for 20 percent of that country’s exports.
However, due to Brexit, the U.K and the U.S. do not have an updated bilateral trade agreement. Quarles met with three high-ranking officials to encourage progress on the trade deal and eliminate tariffs on things such as Kentucky bourbon.